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3.2.4 Placement in Secure Accommodation


This procedure applies to the placements of Looked After children in secure accommodation on welfare grounds.

See also Remands to Local Authority Accommodation or to Youth Detention Accommodation Procedure which deals with remands to Youth Detention Accommodation (which includes secure children’s homes, secure training centres and Young Offender Institutions) in criminal proceedings.


Secure Accommodation (Criteria) Reviews Procedures


Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities on Court Orders and Pre-Proceedings (2014)


This chapter was amended in April 2017 to acknowledge the President of the High Court’s judgement regarding applications in English courts for Secure Accommodation placements in Scotland. (See Section 3.2, Identification of Placement). Section 3.4, Notification of Placement, was also revised to clarify responsibilities associated with arranging the first accommodation review.


  1. Secure Accommodation Criteria
  2. Decision to Place in Secure Accommodation on Welfare Grounds
  3. Arranging Placements 
  4. Support and Ending of Placements
  5. Secure Placements for Children under 13 Years

1. Secure Accommodation Criteria

1.1 Placements on Welfare Grounds

Section 25 of the Children Act 1989 sets out the ‘welfare’ criteria which must be met before a Looked After Child may be placed in secure accommodation. 

The ‘welfare’ criteria are:

  • That the child has a history of absconding and is likely to abscond from any other description of accommodation; and
  • If the child absconds, s/he is likely to suffer Significant Harm; or
  • If the child is kept in any other description of accommodation s/he is likely to injure her/himself or others.

The use of secure accommodation should be for the minimum period necessary, following an assessment of likely risk to the child, others and public safety.

A child must not continue to have his/her liberty restricted once the criteria cease to apply, even if there is a Court Order currently in existence.

The Designated Manager (Secure Accommodation Placements) can approve such placements for up to 72 hours in an emergency. Only a Court can grant permission for placements beyond 72 hours.

A Looked After Child meeting the above criteria may be placed in secure accommodation for a maximum period of 72 hours in any 28 day period, without Court authority (except where the 72 hour period expires on a Saturday, Sunday or public holiday, when the period can be extended to the next working day).

A Court may authorise a child to be kept in secure accommodation for a maximum period of:

  • 3 months on the first application to the Court;
  • 6 months on subsequent applications to the Court.

A Looked After Child may not be placed in secure accommodation when:

  • He or she is under 13, unless the Secretary of State gives prior specific approval - see Section 5, Secure Placements for Children under 13 Years;
  • He or she is over 16 and have asked to be accommodated;
  • Accommodation would be or is being provided on a voluntary basis and a Parent objects to a secure placement;
  • He or she is detained under any provision of the Mental Health Act 1983.

2. Decision to Place in Secure Accommodation on Welfare Grounds

2.1 Consultation

At the point that it is determined that a placement in secure accommodation on welfare grounds may be required, and throughout the subsequent process of identification, planning and placement, the social worker must consult and take account of the views of the following people:

  1. The child;
  2. The child's parents and those with Parental Responsibility;
  3. Anyone who is not a parent but has been caring for the child;
  4. Other members of the child's family who are significant to the child;
  5. The child's school and/or the Education Service;
  6. The Youth Offending Team, if the child is known to them;
  7. The child's Independent Visitor if appointed;
  8. The local authority managing the secure accommodation in which the child is placed if this is not the local authority with responsibility for looking after the child.

2.2 Approvals

Any decision to place a child in a secure placement on welfare grounds can only be made with the specific approval of the Director of Children and Young Peoples Service and, if made, must be notified to those consulted and the child's Independent Visitor. Where the child does not have an Independent Visitor, arrangements must be made for such an appointment as soon as practicable.

To seek the approval of the Director, the child's social worker must prepare a written report with the following information:

  • The child's name, address, date of birth, ethnicity, school and names of those with Parental Responsibility;
  • The grounds/concerns/criteria/aims of the proposed secure placement;
  • The evidence that the criteria are met;
  • What alternatives have been tried/considered and the outcomes;
  • The view of the child and the parents;
  • The comments of the Team Manager;
  • Case Chronology.

The Director of Children and Young Peoples Service will only approve a request to place a child in secure accommodation where the following have been considered in a Legal Planning Meeting:

  • The Criteria for Secure Placements as set out in Section 1, Secure Accommodation Criteria are met;
  • Secure accommodation is the only appropriate method of dealing with the child;
  • Alternatives have been comprehensively considered and rejected;
  • There is a clear view of the aims and objectives of such a placement.

Where the Director of Children and Young Peoples Service agrees that a secure placement on welfare grounds is appropriate, the social worker must contact Legal Services as a matter of urgency regarding the application to Court for a Secure Accommodation Order.

In relation to a child under 13, the approval of the Secretary of State will also be required and, after the approval of the Director of Children and Young Peoples Service has been obtained, a written request should immediately be sent to the Secretary of State - see Section 5, Secure Placements for Children under 13 Years.

2.3 Court Application

The child's social worker must liaise with Legal Services regarding the preparation of evidence to support the application including a Care Plan with the aims and objectives of the placement set out and details of the intended plan to return the child to open conditions.

The social worker should prepare the child for the Court hearing, by explaining the procedure and the possible outcomes, and by advising him or her of the right to be legally represented at the hearing.

The social worker should also book a secure escort for the hearing.

Where the placement is required before there is time to obtain a Secure Accommodation Order, the Designated Manager (Secure Accommodation) can authorise the placement for up to a maximum of 72 hours.

Where an adjournment is necessary, the court can make an interim order.

The child/local authority appeal to the High Court against the making, or refusal to make, an order.

3. Arranging Placements

3.1 Placement Request

Where a decision has been made that a child requires a secure placement on welfare grounds and this has the approval of the Designated Manager (Secure Accommodation Placements), the child's social worker should complete a Placement Request Form and send it, signed by the Service Manager, to the Placement Team.

The Request Form contains information about the child, the type of placement sought, the date by which the placement is required, the likely length of time for which the placement is required and the expected level of contact between the child and parents.

3.2 Identification of Placement

The Placement Team will:

  • Contact the Youth Justice Board Placement Team (0207 271 3250) and request the availability of welfare beds;
  • For London placements, also contact Stamford House (0208 746 0050 extension 257);
  • Make contact with any providers identified and ascertain the services included in the basic cost, what would be regarded as extra cost and the conditions relating to notice period;
  • Liaise with the child's social worker and relevant manager about their suitability and make referrals to any provider agreed as suitable.

The terms and conditions of the placement must be approved by the Designated Manager (Secure Accommodation) and included in the contract with the provider in relation to the placement.

The social worker may then arrange visits to the proposed placement, with the child (if old enough) and parents (if appropriate). Where possible, the placement officer will also make a pre-placement visit.

When the placement has been agreed as suitable and the funding has been agreed, the Placement Team will negotiate the terms and conditions of the placement with the provider. Where there is no existing service level agreement with the provider, an Individual Child Agreement will be drawn up. The details of the service package will then be recorded electronically by the duty administrative officer to trigger the necessary payments to the provider.

The provider's admissions procedure will then be followed.

Note that in July 2016 the President of the Family Division acknowledged the complex cross-border legal issues when children from England are placed in Secure Units in Scotland under section 25 Children Act 1989. He concluded that judges in England cannot make such orders in these circumstances. A High Court under its inherent jurisdiction may be able to, but this may not be able to be enforced in Scotland.

3.3 Placement Planning

Each secure unit will have its own placement planning procedure and therefore the social worker should liaise direct with the provider to establish this.

Before the child is placed, the Placement Team will liaise with the child's social worker and the manager of the secure placement to arrange a Placement Planning Meeting, to take place before the placement wherever possible or within 72 hours of the placement.

The child, parents and any other significant family members and relevant professionals should be invited. A placement officer may also attend where appropriate.

The purpose of the meeting is to share information about the child and the Care Plan, plan the timing of the placement (where relevant) and ensure that a Placement Plan is drawn up.

The Placement Plan should cover the issues (in so far as they are relevant to the placement) set out in the Placement in Residential Care Procedure, Placement Planning.

Following the meeting, the child's social worker will complete and arrange for the circulation of the Care Plan and Placement Plan to the child, parents, Independent Reviewing Officer and home manager. The child's social worker and manager of the home will arrange for the Placement Plan to be drawn up and circulated to the child and parents.

The child's social worker must provide the child and parents with written information about the Looked After Service. The social worker must also ensure that the child is provided with information on using the authority's Complaints Procedure.

The social worker should ensure that any Children's Guide or other information about the placement that is available for the child is obtained and given to him/her.

In all cases, the child should be accompanied to the placement by the social worker and helped to settle in.

3.4 Notification of Placement

The social worker must notify the placement to all those consulted and involved in the decision-making process, including the Placement Team.

The social worker will also notify Safeguarding Children and Quality Assurance Service and will arrange the first accommodation review. See Secure Accommodation (Criteria) Reviews Procedure. Where the child was not previously Looked After, this notification will also trigger the appointment of an Independent Reviewing Officer, and arrangements for the child's first Looked After Review will be made - see Looked After Reviews Procedure.

In addition the child's social worker must provide the necessary information to the relevant administrative staff so that the child's records can be updated.

The notification should be before the start of the placement or within 5 working days.

The administrative officer in the LAC Team will then notify the appropriate health trust, education service and Children's Services Department for the area where the child is placed. These notifications must be made in writing advising of the placement decision and the name and address of the home where the child is to be placed.

It will be necessary for the social worker to ensure the child is registered with a GP, Dentist and Optician, either retaining practices known to them or in the area where they are placed.

In relation to a first Looked After placement it will also be necessary for the social worker to arrange a Health Assessment (see Health Care Assessments and Plans Procedure).

The social worker must also complete a Personal Education Plan, (see Hillingdon Virtual School Handbook).

The social worker must also notify the child's Independent Reviewing Officer, and make arrangements for a review meeting within 28 days - see Secure Accommodation (Criteria) Reviews Procedure.

4. Support and Ending of Placements

4.1 Support and Monitoring of Placements

The child's social worker must visit the child in the placement within one week of the placement and then every six weeks, see Social Worker Visits to Looked After Children Procedure.

The Placement Team will arrange for the placement to be reviewed at regular intervals as agreed at Access to Resources Panel when the placement was authorised. A placement officer will also make regular follow up visits to the secure accommodation at a minimum of 6 monthly or more often if the social worker identifies any difficulties with the resource.

Where the needs of the child in the placement will involve costs in addition to those approved, the placement must be referred to the Access to Resources Panel for authority for any such additional costs before they are incurred.

4.2 Ending of Placements

The child's social worker should inform all those notified of the placement when a placement ends, including the Placement Team and IRO.

Where a secure placement ends in an unplanned way, the Placement Team may consider convening a meeting to discuss the causes of the breakdown and inform further placement planning. The child's social worker, the child, the child's parents, a representative of the external provider and any other significant people (as agreed between the Placement Team and the social worker) should be invited.

5. Secure Placements for Children under 13 Years

See also Department for Education Guidance on Procedures to be followed for the Placement of Child Under 13 in Secure Accommodation.

A placement of a child under the age of 13 years can only be made with the approval of the Secretary of State. This summarises the procedures for obtaining approval.

1. A local authority wishing to place a child under the age of 13 in a secure children’s home where the Secretary of State’s approval is required should first discuss the case with the Looked After Children Division at the Department for Education. Some initial information will be taken over the phone, such as the name and date of birth of the child concerned, and written documentation will be requested. This should be submitted without delay, where possible, by email. 
2. This written documentation will include the following:
  • A full written history/Chronology of the child and whether the child is with the local authority or absent;
  • A view of the likelihood that a court would find that the criteria for Restriction of Liberty are satisfied and an indication of when the local authority is intending to go to court to obtain a Secure Accommodation Order;
  • An explanation of why secure accommodation is the only appropriate method of dealing with the child and whether a bed in a secure children’s home has been identified;
  • An indication of the alternatives to secure accommodation that have been considered and why these have been rejected;
  • The aims and objectives of the secure placement;
  • A copy of a contemporary Care Plan which includes a prospective exit strategy from secure care; and
  • Agreement in writing – from the Designated Manager (Secure Accommodation Placements) – to seek the Secretary of State’s approval.
3. The Department for Education will discuss this information with the Regulatory Authority, who will make a recommendation as to whether the Secretary of State’s approval should be given.
4. The Department for Education will then consider and advise the local authority of the Secretary of State’s decision.
5. Local authorities should ensure that, in order to expedite early decisions, applications for the Secretary of State’s approval are made during office hours. However, where in exceptional circumstances this is not possible, the local authority should telephone the Out of Hours Duty Officer at the Department for Education.