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5.1.11 Placements 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.

DfE, Secure children’s homes: how to place a child under 13 (2015)


This chapter was updated in March 2017 to acknowledge the President of the High Court’s judgement regarding applications in English courts for Secure Accommodation placements in Scotland. (See Section 4, Process of Applications). The chapter has also been amended to reflect the current organisational and Designated management arrangements, (throughout).


  1. Introduction
  2. Policy
  3. Criteria for the Restriction of Liberty
  4. Process of Applications
  5. Appointment of Children's Guardians
  6. Duration of a Secure Order
  7. Secure Accommodation Reviews
  8. The Review Panel
  9. Arranging the Review
  10. Purpose of the Review
  11. The Review Process

    Appendix 1: Standard Letter to Parent

    Appendix 2: Record of Secure Accommodation Review

1. Introduction

This procedure relates to the Independent Review of young people placed in secure accommodation, for more detailed guidance see The Secure Accommodation Regulations (1991) Section 15 (1991 No. 1505).

See also:

  1. The Children Act 1989 Section 25;
  2. The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulation Volume 4 Residential Care (Chapter 8);
  3. Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.

2. Policy

An application to the Court to restrict the liberty of a child is a most serious step and must only be taken when there is absolutely no alternative. It must be a last resort, with all other options having been considered and rejected. For instance, if a child absconds frequently from his accommodation but is not likely to suffer Significant Harm in doing so, a secure placement is not an appropriate option.

It is important that when a secure placement is being considered there is a clear view of the aims and objectives of the placement. The placement considered must be able to meet the young person’s needs.

Secure placements, once made, should only be for so long as is necessary and unavoidable. No secure placement should be made without a prospective discharge plan being in place at the point of admission.

3. Criteria for the Restriction of Liberty

The use of secure accommodation by local authorities is subject to restrictions both in terms of the circumstances in which children they are looking after may be placed in secure accommodation and the maximum periods for which such accommodation may be used, with or without a court order. Where such placements are to exceed 72 hours the local authority, or other body, must seek the authority of the court.

In accordance with the provisions of the Children Act 1989 Section 25, when a child is being provided with accommodation by a local authority they may not be placed, or kept, in accommodation provided for the purpose of restricting liberty unless it appears either that:

  1. He has a history of absconding and is likely to abscond from any other description of accommodation; and
  2. If he absconds, he is likely to suffer Significant Harm; or
b) If he is kept in any other description of accommodation he is likely to injure himself or other persons.

4. Process of Applications

Where a period of secure accommodation is to be applied for by the local authority on welfare grounds, in accordance with the provisions of the Children Act 1989, Section 25, the case must first be discussed with the Head of Service Staying Safe. It is important when considering the possibility of a secure placement that the Head of Service Staying Safe is presented with a clear view on the purpose of using secure accommodation and how this fits into the overall Care Plan. No child may be admitted to secure accommodation without a discharge plan.

The local authority’s immediate powers to secure a child for up to 72 hours in an emergency can only be used with the agreement of the Head of Service Staying Safe.

For children aged under 13 years Regulation 4 of the Children (Secure Accommodation) Regulations 1991 requires a local authority to obtain Secretary of State approval before placing a child of that age in a secure placement. The case should first be discussed with the Department for Education. (See also DfE, Secure children’s homes: how to place a child under 13 (2015))

Once a secure placement ceases, where the approval of the Secretary of State has been required, and while the child concerned remains under the age of 13, it will be necessary for the local authority to seek the further prior approval of the Secretary of State should it again wish to place that child in a secure children’s home. However, when a local authority approaches the court for an extension to a secure order, the approval of the Secretary of State is not required unless there has been a break in the secure placement.

Having agreed with their team manager and district that an application for a Secure Accommodation Order is necessary, the social worker must take the following actions:

  • Seek approval of the Head of Service Staying Safe;
  • Notify the Legal Team of the agreement to make an application for a Secure Accommodation Order;
  • Find a suitable secure placement in consultation with the Quality Assurance Team who will check previous inspection reports for any establishment being considered and obtain full details of placement cost;
  • Ensure agreement to any funds;
  • Agree with the Legal Team who will notify the parents or those with Parental Responsibility for the child and any person whom the child is living with at the time of the proposal to make an application to place the child in secure accommodation, informing when and where the application will be made. It should be noted that for applications made under Section 25 it is a pre-requisite to the application that the child is Looked After;
  • Where appropriate an application for a Secure Accommodation Order may be accompanied by an application for an Interim Care Order, for example where the Section 31 threshold criteria are made out and/or the child has attained the age of 16 years. A 16 year old child Accommodated by the local authority under Section 20 may remove him/herself from secure accommodation. Similarly a child under 16, who is Accommodated under Section 20 may not be placed in secure accommodation where his/her parents or person with shared Parental Responsibility has withdrawn their consent to accommodation. In such circumstances an appropriate application should be made to the Court to enable the local authority to share Parental Responsibility. Such application may be made at the same time as an application for a Secure Accommodation Order. The Legal Team will advise on the appropriate application or combination of applications that should be issued;
  • Ensure that the child’s right to legal representation during the consideration of the application by the court is explained to him and that he is given details of the procedure (preferably in writing). The law requires children to be legally represented at a hearing which is considering an application for a Secure Accommodation Order except where, after proper explanation as above, the child refuses to be represented.

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.

5. Appointment of Children's Guardians

In welfare applications, where the Local Authority apply direct to the court for the Secure Accommodation Order there is a Children’s Guardian appointed who will scrutinise the Care Plan and whose role if the grounds are proven is to advise on the duration of the order.

6. Duration of a Secure Order

A Court Order for secure accommodation is permissive (i.e. it allows but does not compel the Local Authority to hold the child in secure accommodation).

The Order will last for a maximum period of three months on a first application (the Court has discretion to allow a lesser maximum period), or a maximum period of six months on a second or subsequent application in relation to the same child.

Unless the court makes an 'interim order' and adjourns the application, once an order is made, a fresh application has to be issued on each and every occasion the Court is asked to make an order. Each application ends at the point to which the court makes a definitive order (whether or not the maximum period is granted). If it is envisaged that the child will require more than the maximum period or the Court grants a lesser period than that sought, a fresh application has to be issued. However the court may use the same evidence as the first application to find that the grounds continue to be made out.

7. Secure Accommodation Reviews

Statutory Framework for Reviews

The Children (Secure Accommodation) Amendment Regulations 1991, 15 and 16, as amended by the Children (Secure Accommodation) Amendment Regulations 1992, set out the requirements for Secure Accommodation Criteria Reviews.

The Regulations under Section 15 require the placing authority to hold a review of placements made under Section 25 (Children Act 1989) Secure Accommodation Orders.

The Reviews must be held within one month of the start of the placement and thereafter at intervals not exceeding three months.

At the start of the placement the social worker must contact the Head of Service, Child Protection and Child Sexual Exploitation. Factual information should be shared and potential dates for the first review agreed. The Social Worker should also contact Action for Children Advocacy Service (formally NCH) who will visit all young people placed in secure accommodation.

8. The Review Panel

The panel will be chaired by the Head of Service, Child Protection and Child Sexual Exploitation. In his/her absence another designated Head of Service will act as the chairperson. The panel will consist of three people including the chairperson.

Once the date for the review has been agreed, the chairperson will contact the two other panel members, one from residential services and an independent person not employed by Bolton Council.

The young person’s gender and ethnic background should be factors in considering the make-up of the panel.

9. Arranging the Review

The responsibility for setting up the review panel rests with the social worker in consultation with the Head of Service, Safeguarding and Leaving Care.

The social worker will arrange for the young person’s parent(s) or carer(s) to attend and explain the purpose of the review. To facilitate their attendance, the social worker may need to consider their travel arrangements and possible provision of travel expenses. Appendix 1: Standard Letter to Parent to this procedure includes a copy of a standard letter which may be used to formally notify the parents/carers.

The young person may also be informed of the purpose and date of the review. Action for Children Advocacy Service will also be made aware of the review date. It will be a matter for the young person to decide if the advocate from Action for Children Advocacy Service attends.

A brief report written by the social worker should be circulated prior to consideration at the review. The report should include brief factual information, the circumstances leading up to the granting of the Secure Accommodation Order, the grounds for the order and details of the ongoing legal proceedings.

The Independent Review is separate from any other Statutory Review that may be conducted. In some circumstances, for example, where there is some distance to travel to the secure accommodation, it may be appropriate to hold the two review meetings on the same day. In that instance the Independent Review must be held first. A member of staff from the secure unit must attend the review. It is helpful for the panel to have a written report from the unit. This should be organised by the social worker whilst arranging the review.

10. Purpose of the Review

The review panel is required to consider that:

  1. The criteria for keeping the young person in secure accommodation continue to apply; and
  2. Such a placement continues to be necessary, and if so, whether;
  3. The current placement meets the needs of the young person.

The panel must have regard to the welfare of the young person. The wishes and feelings of the young person, the parent(s), or any other person who has Parental Responsibility of the young person should be taken into account at the review.

11. The Review Process

The independent person should arrive at the secure unit at a reasonable time before the start of the review meeting. The young person must be seen by the independent person prior to the review in order to explain its purpose to him/her.

At the start of the review the chairperson should ensure that all the people present introduce themselves. It is helpful for the three panel members to sit together. A member of the panel must record the meeting.

It is the responsibility of the social worker to ensure that appropriate reports have been prepared and circulated. These should include:

  • The social worker’s report;
  • The unit report of progress;
  • The education unit or school report, and if appropriate/available;
  • A psychiatric or psychological report.

The chairperson must set out the purpose of the structure of the meeting. S/he will also explain which secure accommodation criteria the panel will be testing.

The social worker will speak to his/her report to provide evidence that the criteria continue to apply. The representative of the secure unit will also provide information about progress. This will include all behaviours (specifically evidence of absconding and being a danger to him/herself or others). It is good practice for the unit representative to attend for all the review.

Evidence should also be submitted to meet the requirement that if s/he ‘is kept in any other description of accommodation s/he is likely to injure him/herself or others’.

The young person (or advocate) should be permitted to offer a different view, challenge the evidence, and present their own evidence. This in turn can be challenged by the social worker and representative of the secure unit. The various views should be recorded in the minutes.

The young person (representative or parent(s)) may raise concerns relating to the unit regime, contact with and/or access to family and friends, education and mobility. Whilst these are issues for discussion at the care review, it will be appropriate for the panel to address, seek resolution to make recommendations. (In relation to mobility, any approval for movement outside the secure unit can only be approved in writing by the Head of Service Staying Safe).

The social worker should be asked to summarise the facts. The young person and/or his/her representative should summarise their views.

The review panel should then discuss whether the criteria are met before the chairperson presents the panel’s decision. The panel may also comment on other aspects of the young person’s care.

The findings and recommendations of the panel and any required actions will be recorded. A draft format for the record is included as Appendix 2: Record of Secure Accommodation Review. The chairperson will ensure that a copy of the record is circulated to all attendees. If possible, this should be before the next care review. The record should also be forwarded to the Head of Service Staying Safe.

The social worker must act on any recommendations and/or actions contained in the record of the independent review. When the decision is that the young person remains in secure accommodation a date for the next review should be set to take place within the subsequent three months.

Appendix 1: Standard Letter to Parent

Click here to view Appendix 1: Standard Letter to Parent.

Appendix 2: Record of Secure Accommodation Review

Click here to view Appendix 2: Record of Secure Accommodation Review.