Re A (Secure Accommodation) 2014 is a County Court decision and contains nothing of earth-shattering importance in terms of law or precedent, but raises a very real problem.
Secure accommodation applications are relatively rare and reserved for drastic situations, where a child is either running away and putting themselves at significant harm, or that they would cause themselves or others harm if they weren’t kept in accommodation that was entitled to restrict their liberty. (I have to say that I personally am never keen on doing them, but there are times when there is literally nothing else that can be done to keep that child, or others, safe)
In this case, there was little doubt that the boy needed that sort of accommodation
Nevertheless the chronology establishes a terrifying history of A behaving both violently and in an assaultive sexual manner to women. He has three convictions for indecent assault perpetrated upon women in addition to convictions for violence outside a sexual context. A’s victims of his non sexual violence and of his sexual assaults include both his peers, the staff who look after him, or try to look after him, and strangers who he encounters. A’s history, as set out in this document, is terrifying. It seems to me proper on the evidence before me to conclude that A is a young man who presents a danger to the public and, indeed, to himself by reason of his behaviour.
The Court made the order and the Local Authority tried to find a bed for this troubled young boy in accommodation that would meet his needs. They had no success and went back to Court to let the Judge know.
When this matter came before me on Thursday last week, Lancashire County Council informed the Court that although there are 17 secure units in the country, none appeared then to have the facilities to accept A. That is because, in those 17 secure units in the country, whilst there are 1,200 places for children or young people who have been subject to a criminal conviction and a custodial sentence there are only 60 allocated as welfare places. A, upon his release, from his custodial sentence, was to become a child in respect of whom a welfare place and not a criminal place was required.
Since last Thursday I know that Lancashire County Council have been unstinting in their efforts to find a safe and proper placement for A both in his own interests and in the interests of the public and other people generally. The senior manager, the team manager and the social worker allocated to him have been working around the clock and through last weekend to try and identify a placement for A. They have also approached agencies with whom they should be able to work in partnership, including the Youth Offending Team, the Probation Service, the Department of Education and also the Ministry of Justice but they have not been able to identify a placement for A. This is despite approaches, in some cases repeatedly, to all of the 17 agencies with secure placements. In some cases, that is simply because there are no welfare beds available. In some cases, that is because the risks that A presents of sexual offending mean that the institutions concerned are not able to accommodate him. In one case, for example, this is because they have a number of young women in placement. In other cases, it is difficult to fathom what the issue is other than the high risk this young man presents might suggest that he is too much for them.
I do not consider it appropriate to name those units who have declined to take A but simply to outline the facts which amount to a terrible national shortage of secure placements for children and young people who are a danger to themselves and others. I have already said that there are 1,200 beds for young people who are convicted of criminal offences but only 60 for those who are subject to section 25 orders, referred to as “welfare beds”. The Local Authority, during discussions with the Department of Education over the weekend about A was told that there were three other young people who were in the same position at the time of their enquiries.
I was faced last Thursday with a young man who was to be released from custody on Friday for whom there was no secure placement available. This was despite him abundantly satisfying the criteria for a secure accommodation order. I, therefore, adjourned the matter until today. The Local Authority wished to seek from Rainsbrook Secure Unit, where he has been detained during his custodial sentence, information about any assessment or therapeutic work that has been done with him whilst he has been detained. That information was not forthcoming from that unit. I do now have, in addition to the evidence filed with the application a helpful chronology prepared by the Local Authority of the exhaustive efforts that they have made to secure secure accommodation for him.
Thus, despite the Local Authority wanting to place the boy in secure accommodation, and the Court approving that, a lack of beds meant it didn’t happen.
Thus it was that, at two o’clock on Friday afternoon 6th June 2014, A was released from custody and transported back to Lancashire, his home area. He had to be placed in a children’s home: a children’s home with six other children also in the placement. The Local Authority seconded three additional staff into the home to look after A specifically having regard for the risks I have outlined in this judgment. Notwithstanding that, A, having initially said that he was going to comply with the regime at the children’s home and having had a meal with a social worker and having spoken to his mother over the telephone, left that unit with another young person and stayed out until five o’clock in the morning. Furthermore A does not dispute that, whilst he was out, he used cannabis, to which I have omitted to say he appears to have been addicted since before the age of 10 years. Those events are extremely concerning in the circumstances of the chronology and the risks that I have outlined and those events strongly support the urgent need for A to be placed in a secure unit.
The efforts so far made by the Local Authority have produced only a possibility of him going to a unit in south Wales. Neither A nor his mother want him to be placed so far away from home but if that is the only placement available, then it seems to me it would be a proper placement, although, of course, my jurisdiction is simply to permit the Local Authority to place in secure accommodation. The alternative to South Wales is a unit in Leeds where the Department of Education may be able to release a criminal bed to become a welfare bed. That unit could still decline to take A because of the risks that he presents.
The reason I have delivered this judgment and propose to authorise its publication is because this case demonstrates a gross shortage of resource. The shortage necessarily creates a lack of protection for the public and for the dangerous young person/child unless and until a criminal offence, sufficiently serious to attract a custodial sentence, is committed. Neither the Local Authority nor this court would want to see anything else happening in this case having regard for the already frightening chronology. Another incident would have every potential to be a serious incident having regard for the history I have read in respect of A. The fact that I was told there were three other children in the same situation over last weekend means that it is only right for the circumstances in this case to be made public
This is a real worry – there need to be beds available for children in this position, and a provision of 60 nationally is well short of what is needed (particularly since in the light of the Rochdale ‘grooming and sexual exploitation’ cases, Local Authorities and police forces are alive to the possibility of secure accommodation being the only real option to protect victims and get them away from sexual exploitation if the police aren’t able to press charges (because the girls won’t make a complaint due to fear, bribery or manipulation).
Also, although nobody has really got stuck into this yet, Baroness Hale’s judgment in Cheshire West means that an awful lot of children with disabilities/cognitive issues are actually being deprived of liberty than were previously thought, and many of them might end up coming into the Secure Accommodation system.