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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.


Secure Accommodation (Criteria) Reviews Procedure


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 4.1, Placement Request, Identification and Approval).


  1. Secure Accommodation Criteria
  2. Decision to Place in Secure Accommodation
  3. Placements of Children under the age of 13
  4. Planned Placements
  5. 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.

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.

The Designated Manager (Secure Accommodation) 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 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 (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 on welfare grounds where:

  • He or she is under the age of 13, unless the Secretary of State gives prior specific approval (see Section 3, Placements of Children under the age of 13);
  • He or she is over 16 and has asked to be Accommodated;
  • He or she is Accommodated 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

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’s Services 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’s Services 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’s Services 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 for Family Services has been obtained, a written request should immediately be sent to the Secretary of State - see Section 3, Placements of Children under the age of 13.

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. Placements of Children under the age of 13

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

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.

The case should first be discussed with 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 e-mail or by fax.

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 secure accommodation has been arranged;
  • 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 accommodation; and
  • A written agreement - signed by the Designated Manager (Secure Accommodation) - to seek the Secretary of State's approval.

The Department for Education will discuss this information with appropriate inspectors at the Regulatory Authority, 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.

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.

4. Planned Placements

4.1 Placement Request, Identification and Approval

Where the child's social worker considers that a child requires a secure placement, and following agreement with the Agency Decision Maker, the social worker should contact Secure Children's Homes (Referrals) in order to identify a suitable placement.

Each secure unit 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.

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.

If a placement is offered, the home is likely to need written confirmation of an undertaking to pay the stated fee and, where relevant, written confirmation of authorisation for a 72 hours placement.

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.

4.2 Placement Planning

Each secure unit 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 take place within 72 hours 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 Placements 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 home manager. The child's social worker and manager of the home 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.

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.

4.3 Notification of Placement

The child's social worker must ensure that the relevant finance officer of the placement is notified of the placement within one working day (so that the appropriate arrangements to pay the provider are in place) and update the child's electronic records.

The social worker must also ensure that notification of the placement is sent to the Independent Reviewing Officer, the appropriate health and education services, the child's GP and Children's Services for the area where the child is placed.

The notifications must advise of the placement decision, the name and address of the new carers, details relating to the child's contact with parents and the arrangements related to the care and welfare of the child.

Notification of the placement must also be sent by the child's social worker to all family members consulted and involved in the decision-making process.

The social worker must also ensure that the child is registered with a GP, Dentist and Optician; and that a Health Care Assessment takes place as necessary.

The notification 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 Designated Manager (Secure Accommodation).

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.

5. Support, Monitoring and Ending of Placements

5.1 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 procedures in Social Worker Visits to Looked After Children Procedure.

See also Secure Accommodation (Criteria) Reviews Procedure.

5.2 Ending of Placements

The child's social worker should notify the relevant finance officer within one working day of the placement ending (so that the arrangements to pay the provider will be terminated) and update the child's electronic record.

The social worker should also inform all those notified of the placement (including the IRO) that the placement has ended.