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Applications for secure accommodation and Deprivation of Liberty orders

An application for a secure accommodation order for your child

Secure accommodation is a type of placement where your child will not be free to move around or leave the placement in the usual way. They may need to be supervised for periods of time and will usually not be permitted to leave the accommodation unescorted. If the local authority needs to place a child under the age of 13 in this type of accommodation, they need the permission of the Secretary of State. 

This type of order is made under section 25 of the Children Act 1989. The order allows children’s services to place a looked after child under the age of 16 in secure accommodation on welfare grounds if one of two conditions applies: 

  • Your child has a history of running away or placing themselves at risk. The order may be made if your child is likely to run away from any other type of placement, and they would be likely to suffer significant harm if they did run away. 

  • Your child is likely to injure themself or someone else if they were kept in any other form of placement. 

A child should only be kept in secure accommodation while the risk to their welfare and safety exists. They must be discharged as soon as the risk is diminished or removed. The first order can only be up to three months and subsequent orders are limited to six months at a time to make sure the child’s circumstances are reviewed regularly. 

A local authority will sometimes make an application for a secure accommodation order if they are worried that a child is at risk of being exploited or trafficked when they have run away. They may be at risk of sexual exploitation or being drawn into criminal activity by a gang (sometimes called ‘county lines’). 

There is a shortage of secure accommodation, which makes finding a suitable placement extremely difficult. In these circumstances the local authority may place the child in residential accommodation a long way from their local area where the risk for them exists.  

The court will appoint a children’s guardian to provide expert advice on the application and the proposed plan and comment on whether the secure accommodation order is suitable and in the child’s best interests. 

Other applications to deprive your child of their liberty

Applications to deprive children of their liberty have increased significantly over the last few years. They are used when specialist provision such as secure accommodation is not available and so restrictions have to be put in place in a different type of placement. 

A ruling of the Supreme Court in March 2014 defined a deprivation of liberty as occurring when an individual lacks the ability to make decisions about their safety, treatment and care and an order is made that subjects the individual to constant supervision and control which means they are not free to leave until the order is discharged.  

A deprivation of liberty order can include one or more of the following (this list is not definitive): 

  • care staff forcing a child to take medication against their will; 

  • care staff exercising complete control over a child's care and movements; 

  • care staff restraining a child;

  • care staff refusing or restricting a child’s access to communicate via phone and social media;

  • care staff refusing to allow a child to associate with or spend time with family or friends who pose a risk to the child; 

  • care staff making all decisions about a child's assessments, treatments, visitors, being released into the care of others and where they can live; and 

  • care staff refusing to discharge a child to the care of parents or any others with parental responsibility. 

The form of permitted restrictions must be specified precisely in the order for the care staff to act lawfully. To protect the child and their care staff, some providers of residential care homes require a deprivation of liberty order to give them the legal authority to take these actions. This can include arrangements to transport a child to a care placement. 

As with all forms of restrictions, they must be proportionate to the circumstances and the risk to the person's welfare and safety. They must also be time limited and subject to review. 

The court will appoint a children’s guardian unless there are good reasons not to, for example, the child is older and mature enough to have their own lawyer. The child’s guardian provides expert advice to the court on the application and the proposed plan, and comments on whether the specific content of the proposed order is suitable and in the child’s best interests.