The Department for Education has chosen to push forward with plans to introduce national standards for ‘supported’ accommodation, which will replace unregulated settings in the coming years. Ofsted will begin registering providers in April 2023 ahead of Autumn 2023, where new national standards become mandatory. The Department for Education does not expect the first full inspections to begin until April 2024.

On 9th September 2021 the government made it illegal in England to house children up to the age of 15 in unregulated accommodation. This decision was made after pressure from across the sector, including NYAS’ own ‘Regulate!’ campaign, but the government chose to exclude 16- and 17-year-olds from the same protection.

National standards

The government’s proposed national standards do not currently include the standard of care that is expected in regulated residential children’s homes. The distinction between providing ‘care’ and ‘support’ for young people not only sets a dangerous precedent within legislation and guidance, but denies children in care over 15 the right to be cared for. As one young person said in a government focus group: “You can support someone and not care for them, but you can’t care for someone and not support them”.

Early 2022 will see a copy of the national standards published for consultation, to which NYAS will respond.

Inspection at provider-level

The Department for Education’s decision for Ofsted to inspect at provider level rather than at setting level is at odds with the safety of the young people in these settings. Inspection at provider level means that only a sample of homes belonging to each provider will be visited by Ofsted.

In responding to the Department for Education’s second consultation in Summer 2021, NYAS disagreed with this model on the basis that diluting the level of inspection would increase the risk of young people being exploited and subject to abuse and neglect.

Rejecting setting-level inspections on account of “disproportionate costs for provision” prioritises financial savings rather than the safety of young people in these settings.

Rita Waters, NYAS Group CEO (England and Wales) said: “NYAS is appalled to see that 16- and 17-year-olds are continuing to be excluded from the guarantee of the care and security that the care system exists to provide. The government is failing thousands of children who deserve to be properly cared for. Despite the flaws in the government’s ‘national standards’ model, they have clearly decided that there must be some form of regulation. So why must thousands more children be sent to live in unregulated homes for at least another two years?”

Read the government’s consultation response here and the analysis of focus groups with children and young people here.