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4.3.5 Placements in Secure Accommodation on Welfare Grounds


This procedure applies to the placements of Looked After children in secure accommodation under Section 25 Children Act 1989 - often referred to as being '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 (or 'Criteria') Reviews Procedure


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

DfE, Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations - Volume 5: Children's Homes - Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities, 2013 (chapter 4)


This chapter was updated in April 2019 to reflect the updated guidance 'Secure children's homes: how to place a child aged under 13 (July 2018)'.


  1. Secure Accommodation Criteria
  2. Children to whom Section 25 does and does not Apply
  3. Period of Secure Accommodation
  4. Decision to Place in Secure Accommodation
  5. Children under the age of 13 Years
  6. Planned Placements
  7. Applying for a Secure Accommodation Order
  8. Support, Monitoring and Ending of Placements

1. Secure Accommodation Criteria

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.

NB: only one of these two additional criteria need be established. The welfare principle (established in Section 1 the Children Act 1989), although it remains relevant, is not of paramount consideration under Section 25.

2. Children to whom Section 25 does and does not Apply

2.1 Where Section 25 applies

Section 25 only applies to 'Looked After' children, i.e. those children:

  1. Who are accommodated (for at least 24 hours) under Section 20 Children Act 1989 (excluding those over 16 and accommodated in a community home under Section 20(5)); or
  2. Who are the subject of a Care Order.

In exceptional circumstances, if a child is not 'looked after' or the placement of the child is thought to constitute a deprivation of the child's liberty, (even though it is not its primary purpose), an application would need to be made to the High Court to exercise its 'inherent jurisdiction'. Such an approach would require careful consideration and include a full review of the placement and the child's circumstances together with legal advice.

Prior to admission to Secure Accommodation, a written agreement concerning the placement should be made between the local authority and the parents to include the purpose of admission, expected duration and the arrangements for bringing the placement to an end (see also Section 6.2, Placement Planning).

2.2 Accommodated Children Who Are 16 - 17 Years of Age

Children Act 1989 Section 20 provides:

  • Section 20 (3) - Every local authority shall provide accommodation for any child in need within their area who has reached the age of sixteen and whose welfare the authority consider is likely to be seriously prejudiced if they do not provide him/her with accommodation;
  • Section 20 (5) - A local authority may provide accommodation for any person who has reached the age of sixteen but is under twenty-one in any community home which takes children who have reached the age of sixteen if they consider that to do so would safeguard or promote his/her welfare.

Re P (Application for Secure Accommodation Order) [2015] EWHC 2971 clarified the situation with regard to a child reaching the age of 16 years and Section 20 Accommodation:

  • A child provided with accommodation under Section 20(3) Children Act 1989 may be made subject to a Secure Accommodation Order;
  • However, a child provided with accommodation under Section 20(5) Children Act 1989 cannot be made subject to a Secure Accommodation Order.

Young people aged 16 or 17 years have the right to discharge themselves from Section 20(5) accommodation and, consequently, from Secure Accommodation. Nevertheless, where the local authority continues to have concerns about the safety of the young person, legal advice should be taken and a decision made as to whether to commence care proceedings and seek an Interim Care Order and Secure Accommodation Order.

2.3 Where Section 25 does not apply

A Looked After child may not be placed in Secure Accommodation on Welfare Grounds where he/she is:

  • Under the age of 13 years, unless the Secretary of State gives prior specific approval (see Section 5, Children under the age of 13 Years);
  • Accommodated and a parent/carer with Parental Responsibility objects to a secure placement. A secure placement can then only be made via the Court – seeking an Interim Care Order and Secure Accommodation Order;
  • Detained under any provision of the Mental Health Act 1983;
  • Being kept in police protection;
  • Subject to a Child Assessment Order or Emergency Protection Order and is being kept away from home;
  • Subject to Wardship - unless there is direction from the Judge exercising their inherent jurisdiction;
  • Subject to Section 53, Children and Young Persons Act 1933, (punishment of serious crimes).

3. Period of Secure Accommodation

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 Secure Accommodation Order still in existence. (See Secure Accommodation (Criteria) Review Procedure).

3.1 Without A Court Order

The Executive Director can approve such placements for up to 72 hours in an emergency, wherever possible following a Panel discussion chaired by the Service Director. Only a Court can grant permission for placements beyond 72 hours.

A Looked After Child who meets the above criteria may be placed in secure accommodation for a maximum period of 72 hours in any 28 days period without a Secure Accommodation Order.

Note: Where a young person is under 13 the prior approval of the Secretary of State is required (see Section 5, Children under the age of 13 Years).

Weekends/Bank Holidays

The provisions are relaxed to cover the situation where the 72 hour period expires late on Saturday, a Sunday or public holiday.

The Regulations provide that, where a child is placed in secure accommodation at any time between 12 midday on the day before and 12 midday on the day after a public holiday or a Sunday, and:

  • During that period the maximum period of 72 hours expires; and
  • In the 27 days before the day on which s/he was placed in secure accommodation, s/he has been placed and kept in secure accommodation for an aggregate of more than 48 hours,

then, the maximum period (of 72 hours) shall be treated as if it did not expire until 12 midday on the first working day after the public holiday or Sunday.

3.2 With a Court Order

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.

NB: Any time spent in Secure Accommodation prior to the Court Order is disregarded in respect of the above time limits.

4. Decision to Place in Secure Accommodation

4.1 Consultation

At the point that it is determined that a placement in Secure Accommodation 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:

  • The child;
  • The child's parents and those with Parental Responsibility;
  • Anyone who is not a parent but has been caring for the child;
  • Other members of the child's family who are significant to the child;
  • The child's school and/or the Education Service;
  • The Youth Offending Team, if the child is known to them;
  • The child's Independent Visitor and/or advocate, as appropriate;
  • 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.

4.2 Approval

Any decision to place a child in a secure placement on welfare grounds can only be made with the specific approval of the Executive Director 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 Executive 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, including legal advice, that the criteria are met;
  • What alternatives have been tried/considered and the outcomes;
  • The view of the child and the parents/others who have Parental Responsibility;
  • The comments of their line manager;
  • Chronology.

The Executive Director will only consider a request to place a child in secure accommodation where the following have been considered in a Secure Accommodation Panel, chaired by the Service Director:

  • 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 Executive Director is satisfied that a secure placement on welfare grounds is appropriate, the social worker must contact LGSS Law as a matter of urgency regarding the application to Court for a Secure Accommodation Order.

In relation to a child under 13 years, the approval of the Secretary of State will also be required and, after the Executive Director's approval has been obtained, a written request should immediately be sent to the Secretary of State - see Section 5, Children under the age of 13 Years.

The social worker should ensure that suitable transport arrangements are in place to enable the child to attend any hearing.

5. Children under the age of 13 Years

See also Department for Education Guidance - Secure Children's Homes: How to Place a Child aged under 13.

A child under the age of 13 years can only be placed in secure accommodation with the approval of the Secretary of State. This section summarises the procedures for obtaining approval which is normally undertaken by a Head of Service.

5.1 Telephone Discussion with the Department of Education

See Department for Education for contact information.

Some initial information will be taken over the phone, such as:

  • The name and date of birth of the child concerned;
  • The reasons why a secure placement is required;
  • Details of what alternatives to a secure placement the local authority have considered and why it is thought a secure placement is more appropriate;
  • Confirmation of whether an identified bed is available;
  • Confirmation of whether the child is with the applicant or whether they are missing from care (having run away);
  • Details of when the local authority will go to court to seek a Secure Accommodation Order for the child;
  • Confirmation of whether the Secure Welfare Co-ordination Team (SWCU) has been approached with a referral.

5.2 Required Documentation

This written documentation to be emailed will include the following:

  • A letter signed at assistant director level or above explaining why you are applying, which should include:
    • Confirmation that they have reviewed the application and in their view the section 25 criteria are met;
    • Confirmation that they have taken advice from their legal department.
  • A full written history/chronology of the child and whether the child is with the local authority or absent; this should include a record of recent incidents, covering at least the last 3 months, which gives evidence of how the section 25 criteria are met;
  • A detailed care plan that covers the period the child will be in secure accommodation, which as a minimum should include:
    • Confirmation that the section 25 criteria are met;
    • The alternatives to a secure placement that have been tried or considered;
    • Explanation of why the local authority thinks a secure placement is the best option for the child;
    • What the aims of the secure placement are;
    • What the young person's needs and challenges are and how these will be addressed during the secure placement, including expectations of the secure provider;
    • What the exit strategy is for the young person's return back into the community or another placement;
    • Confirmation of the intended initial length of the secure accommodation order or placement;
    • A list of assessments, for example psychiatric, psychological or health, that have been or will be carried out during the secure placement;
    • Identification of any therapeutic provision that will be required;
    • The intended outcomes from the secure placement or preparation for transition.

The Department for Education will discuss this information with Ofsted, who will make a recommendation as to whether the Secretary of State's approval should be given. The Department for Education will then consider and advise the local authority of the Secretary of State's decision. This will usually be the same day and a certificate will also be sent out.

5.3 Out of Hours

To expedite early decisions, applications for the Secretary of State's approval should normally be made during office hours. Where this is not possible, the Head of Service can authorise telephoning the Out of Hours Care Duty Officer at the Department for Education.

As long as the criteria for Section 25 are met and are deemed appropriate. Verbal approval can be given. An email confirming the approval of the Assistant Director level (or above) along with the documentation that supports the application must be sent the following working day. Once the documents have been assessed a certificate will be issued that confirms the Secretary of State's approval.

6. Planned Placements

6.1 Placement Request, Identification and Approval

Where the child's social worker considers that a Looked After Child requires a secure placement and has the agreement of their Head of Service, pending formal approval by the Executive Director, they should contact Access to Resources Team (ART) to start the process of finding a suitable placement.

Each secure Team contacted will require basic information, including legal status, reasons why a secure placement is needed and details of any specific behavioural problems or offences e.g. arson, sexually abusive or violent behaviour.

If a placement is offered, the home will need written confirmation from ART of an undertaking to pay the stated fee and, where relevant, written confirmation of authorisation for a 72 hours placement, together with copies of the Interim Care or full Care Order and the DfE 'Certificate' for Children under 13 years. A copy of the Secure Order (when such an application has been made) will also be required in all cases.

Note - Placements in Scotland: Schedule 1, Children and Social Work Act 2017 enables local authorities to make placements in secure accommodation under Sect 25 (1989 Children Act).

The issue of restrictions to local authority support for children living abroad (Schedule 2, Children Act 1989) no longer apply to a child placed in secure accommodation in Scotland under Section 25.

6.2 Placement Planning

Each secure Team will have its own Placement Planning Procedure and therefore, once a placement has been identified, the social worker should liaise directly with the provider to establish this.

Before the child is placed, the child's social worker will liaise with the manager of the home to arrange a Placement Planning Meeting. If this is not possible prior to the placement, it must be held in order that the Placement Plan is completed within 5 working days of the start of the placement.

The child, parents, and any other significant family members and relevant professionals should be invited to attend.

The purpose of the meeting is to share information about the child and the Care Plan, complete/update the necessary documentation about the child, plan the timing of the placement and ensure that a Placement Plan/Placement Information Record is drawn up.

The Placement Plan should cover the same issues as those listed in Placement in Residential Care Procedure.

Following the meeting, the child's social worker will complete and arrange for the circulation of the Care Plan to the child, parents, IRO and manager of the Team. The child's social worker and manager of the Team will arrange for the Placement Plan/Placement Information Record 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 (see Complaints and Representations - Staff Guidance).

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. The social worker should ensure that arrangements are made to transport the chid safely and securely. Funding for secure transport requires specific approval.

6.3 Notification of Placement

The child's social worker will update ICS with the details of the placement and complete Form SOC 408, sending it to the Access to Resources Team (ART).

The ART undertake notifications which should be before the start of the placement where possible, or within 5 working days.

Notification of the placement will also be sent to the Designated Nurse for LAC, the education service, the relevant local Children's Services (if the placement is in the area of a different local authority) and the child's GP.

The social worker will notify all family members consulted and involved in the decision-making process of the placement.

These notifications must be made in writing, advising of the placement decision and the name and address of the person with whom the child is to be placed.

The child's social worker should also notify - preferably in writing but it may be verbally - all those involved in the day to day arrangements for the child, including nursery/school and any health professional or YOS worker actively involved with the child. The social worker must also ensure that the child is registered with a GP, Dentist and Optician; the child's home Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), and the CCG for the area where the child is placed (as this is likely to be different from the child's home CCG) should be informed also. The social worker should also ensure that a Health Assessment takes place as necessary. (Note: where a child moves into another CCG area, any treatment or service should be continued uninterrupted).

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

The social worker must also confirm the placement within 24 hours by e-mail to the Executive Director and Service Director.

The social worker must also notify the child's Independent Reviewing Officer, and make arrangements for a LAC Review meeting within 28 days. Whilst a Secure Accommodation (Criteria) Review is distinct and separate from a Looked After Review, they can be held on the same day - see Secure Accommodation (or 'Criteria') Reviews Procedure.

7. Applying for a Secure Accommodation Order

The child's social worker must liaise with LGSS LAW 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.

7.1 The Application

  • Must be made on Form C1, with supplement C20;
  • Served on the appropriate respondents;
  • On notice to all respondents and relevant parties, (and their legal representatives if those are known at the time of the Secure Application). These are:
    • Every person who is believed to have Parental Responsibility for the child;
    • Where the child is subject to a Care Order, every person whom it is believed had Parental Responsibility immediately prior to the making of a Care Order;
    • Any person with whom the child is living at the time the proceedings commenced;
    • The child;
    • Any person providing refuge, e.g. Voluntary Home or Children's Home certified under Section 51(1) and Section 52(2) Children Act 1989;
    • The local authority providing accommodation for the child, (if this is not the responsible authority).

Once made, an application can only be withdrawn with the permission of the court.

7 days before the date of the hearing (unless the court has directed a shorter period), respondents should be served with:

  • A copy of the application with the hearing date endorsed;
  • A notice of the proceedings with the date and place of the hearing;
  • The evidence which is relied upon in support of the application for a secure order; via:
    • The written statement relied on in support of the application;
    • Other relevant reports from specialists or experts or other documents;
    • A detailed copy of the Care Plan.

The Care Plan should detail, as far as possible, the care arrangements for the child, education provision and any other professional support, both within the Secure Accommodation and after the placement ends.

7.2 Interim Orders

An adjournment may be justified either for reasons of procedural fairness or in order to obtain further information. Otherwise, the court should proceed to consider the substantive application.

Where a court adjourns an application for a secure accommodation order, it may make an interim order permitting the child to be kept in secure accommodation during the period of adjournment.

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

8. Support, Monitoring and Ending of Placements

8.1 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 at least every six weeks; see Social Worker Visits to Looked After Children Procedure.

Once the Secure Accommodation Criteria Review establishes that the child no longer meets the criteria for Section 25 Secure Accommodation, it will be important that the exit plan/Care Plan is expedited, (see Section 3, Period of Secure Accommodation).

It is therefore important that the placement is carefully monitored with regard to the child's progress, both in terms of any additional specialist assessments that may be required and commissioned, and also in respect of the 'exit plan' that will have been established at the point of admission and subsequent Looked After Reviews.

Where a child is Section 20 Accommodated it will be particularly important to maintain visits and communication with the parents and any others with Parental Responsibility.

If the parent does not agree with the nature of the exit placement which is being, or has been, assessed and considered as meeting the child's needs, then further discussions are required as to any alternatives that might adequately safeguard the child. Where agreement cannot be reached, urgent consideration must be given to possible ways forward including whether Care Proceedings might be required. (See Care and Supervision Proceedings and the Public Law Outline Procedure).

8.1.2 Mobility

A sign of progress will be when the child achieves 'mobility' and is allowed out of the Team albeit on an escorted basis and in a planned way.

The Secure Accommodation Team will seek permission from the social worker for mobility. The Team should provide details of the activity to be undertaken, together with the support and management of that to ensure the young person continues to be safeguarded and does not abscond.

Written agreement for mobility should be sought from the Head of Service who should be provided with a report on the child's progress including the mobility proposals, to inform their decision.

8.2 Ending of Placements

The decision to end a placement will normally be taken by the Secure Accommodation (Criteria) Review. Where it is felt that the criteria for secure accommodation no longer apply, a review must be arranged ahead of schedule.

Making arrangements, including the timing, for the next, 'exit' placement is often not easy but is clearly important. Planning for the exit placement should not be left until before the next Secure Accommodation Order Hearing, or when the Order lapses, given that the criteria for Secure Accommodation may no longer be met before either of these events. Progressing the exit placement should begin well before it is thought the child will be ready and will start by researching possible options.

Early Identification of a specific placement ensure the proposed placement has all the relevant and most up to date information, as well as positively being able to reflect on the progress the child may have made.

Irrespective of the child's legal status, the parents/those with Parental Responsibility, should be involved and consulted about the exit placement.

Clearly, if the child is Section 20 Accommodated, then agreement with the parent is required.

Transferring to the exit placement should be undertaken as for any Looked After Child.

When leaving the secure accommodation begins to emerge as a possibility, a discussion with the child about transition from the secure accommodation should be undertaken and the future carers or staff should visit the child in the secure accommodation placement to ensure a full exchange of information as well as an introduction.

A visit by the child to the next placement should be undertaken where possible.

See also Secure Accommodation (or 'Criteria') Reviews Procedure.

When the placement ends, the child's social worker must update ICS and complete a SOC 408 form so that payments to the provider will cease and appropriate notifications can be made to those notified when the placement was made.

The social worker should also inform the IRO that the placement has ended.