At AFG LAW our solicitors understand how difficult it is for a parent to be faced with a social worker saying they want to place their child in Secure Accommodation. A lot of parents feel upset, frustrated and don’t feel it is right for a child to be “locked up”; other parents may simply not know what else to do and worry about their child’s safety. Our specialist solicitors regularly represent children and parents when the Local Authority has made an application for a Secure Accommodation Order. It is one the most serious orders a court can make and should only be used as a last resort, it is important that you have proper legal advice and representation.
If you have been told the local authority are making an application to court for a Secure Accommodation order call our solicitors today. It is important that you get urgent legal advice from our specialist care solicitors so you can discuss your options and find out whether you can access legal aid to be represented at court hearings.
- What is a Secure Accommodation Order?
- When might a local authority make an application for a secure accommodation order in relation to my child?
- What is “secure accommodation”?
- When can the court make a Secure Accommodation Order?
- How will the Court know what my child says and wants to happen?
- The social worker has put my child in Secure Accommodation without even going to Court. Are they allowed to do this?
- How long do secure accommodation orders last?
- Do I get to see my child whilst they are in Secure Accommodation?
- How do I show my child has changed and doesn’t need to stay in Secure Accommodation?
What is a Secure Accommodation Order?
It is a type of court order that allows a local authority to place a child in Secure Accommodation. It is used in cases where the social workers are worried a young person might cause serious harm to themselves or others.
A Secure Accommodation order can only be made if a child is a “looked after” child. A “looked after child” is a child or young person who is accommodated by, or in the care of, a local authority. Children are more likely to be “looked after” where there have been significant concerns regarding their welfare, it is not safe for them to remain at home with their family or where the local authority shares parental responsibility and a court order is in place. There are different rules depending on the age of the child the local authority believes needs to be Securely Accommodated but orders can be made for children as young as under 13.
When might a local authority make an application for a Secure Accommodation order in relation to my child?
Every young person is different and it will depend on what has been happening for your child to be at risk of suffering significant harm. Our solicitors have been involved in cases where issues have included:
- Child sexual exploitation
- Gang activity
- Criminal activity
- Self harm or risk of self harm
- Harmed a family member or person in the community
What is “Secure Accommodation”?
It is a specialised placement authorised to care for children in a locked setting, which prevents a young person from being able to leave the accommodation if they wish to and therefore deprives a young person of their liberty. Secure accommodation units usually have a high level of staff along with specialist services, including education and mental health services, to try and address the issues that the young person is experiencing and which led them to being placed in a secure accommodation unit. Secure accommodation is not about punishment but is instead about trying to protect young people experiencing extreme circumstances or from causing harm to others.
When can the court make a Secure Accommodation order?
The court can make a secure accommodation order if:
- A young person has a history of running away, is likely to run away from any other kind of accommodation AND if they run away they are likely to suffer significant harm;
- If the young person is not kept in secure accommodation they are likely to injure themselves or other people.
How will the Court know what my child says and wants to happen?
A Children’s Guardian will be appointed from CAFCASS and in turn they will instruct a solicitor to represent the child. The court cannot make a secured accommodation order unless a child is legally represented in court, unless the child decides they don’t want to be represented. The guardian will recommend to the court what he thinks is in the child’s best interest, but the child’s welfare is not the paramount consideration in these proceedings.
The social worker has locked up my child without even going to Court. Are they allowed to do this?
In emergency situations a young person can be placed in secure accommodation for up to 72 hours without having input from a Court but if the Local Authority think that the child needs to be in secure accommodation for longer they have to make an urgent application to the court or allow the young person to leave the secure accommodation unit.
How long do Secure Accommodation orders last?
The court can make a secure accommodation order for up to three months on the first application, and then can apply to extend it for up to six months. If during the course of their time in secured accommodation the young person no longer meets the criteria for an order, the local authority must remove the young person from the secure accommodation unit. It is important that children do not spend any longer than absolutely necessary in a secure accommodation unit and when it is identified it is appropriate for them to leave they should be able to leave without waiting for the end of the order to come about.
A safety feature of secured accommodation orders is that there must be an independent review meeting within a month of a young person being placed in secure accommodation and then reviews must take place at least every three months. It is important that you have legal representation to ensure this happens and your child spends the least amount of time in secure accommodation as is necessary.
Do I get to see my child whilst they are in Secure Accommodation?
Whilst a child is in secured accommodation the local authority must make arrangements for reasonable contact between you; but they also have the power to seek a court order to suspend or stop contact if they believe that it is not in the child’s interest for contact to take place. Places at secure accommodation units are limited and often young people are placed outside of their local area. This can then cause difficulties with family members visiting them for contact but the local authority should be able to provide support. If you are not happy about the level of contact you have been offered whilst your child is in secure accommodation our solicitors can help, by negotiating with the local authority and can also provide advice about making an application for contact with a child in care
How do I show my child has changed and doesn’t need to stay in Secure Accommodation?
There will be regular reviews of your child’s care plan to monitor their progress whilst in the secure setting. These reviews should also consider the future plans for your child, once he has left the secure setting. Just because the court has made an order for a fixed period of time doesn’t mean that your child has to stay in secured accommodation for the whole time; if it is decided that the secure accommodation isn’t needed anymore the Local Authority must look to move the child out of secure accommodation.