Placements in Secure Accommodation


This procedure applies to the placements of Looked After Children in secure accommodation under Section 25 Children Act 1989 where the child is placed in a prescribed residential placement authorised for the purpose of placing a child under S.25.

This policy does not apply to situations where:

  1. A child is detained of their liberty as a result of conditions imposed by the police, probation service or criminal court. See Memorandum of understanding for the provision of Local Authority accommodation for Children & Young People (10-17 years) following Police bail or being denied bail which deals with Remands to Youth Detention Accommodation (which includes Secure Children's Homes, Secure Training Centres and Young Offender Institutions) in criminal proceedings;
  2. A child who is looked after by the Local Authority is deprived of their liberty in a location which is not authorised for detention under S.25 Children Act by the Secretary of State in accordance with Regulation 3 of the 1991 Regulations. See Restricting a Child's Liberty.


The Children (Secure Accommodation) Regulations 1991

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

Guide to the Children’s Homes Regulations including the Quality Standards

Re W (A Child) [2016] EWCA Civ 804 - accommodation under S.20 and definition of abscond


Secure Accommodation (Criteria) Reviews Procedure


This chapter was revised in March 2023.

1. Secure Accommodation Criteria

The restriction and deprivation of a child's liberty by placing them in a secure unit is a draconian measure. The child will be locked in a specialist residential home and reasonable force to restrain the child can be used. Although this option of care and protection does not have to be a last resort it should be the last option.

Any inappropriate use of this power may lead to breach of human rights claims.

There are two elements to secure accommodation. The first is the 72 hour provision which is a power provided to the Local Authority under S.25 Children Act 1989 ("S.25"). The second is an Order of the court authorising the detention under S.25.

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 and 6 months on subsequent applications. Orders are permissive and a child may only be detained under S.25 while the criteria apply. As soon as the criteria cease to apply the child must leave the placement (see Secure Accommodation (Criteria) Reviews Procedure).

2. Criteria

A child may be made subject to an order under S.25 Children Act 1989 known as a "Secure Order" when:

  1. The child has a history of absconding and is likely to abscond from any other description of accommodation; and
    If the child absconds, they are likely to suffer significant harm (given its ordinary meaning under the Children Act 1989);
  2. If the child is kept in any other description of accommodation they are likely to injure themselves or others.

It must therefore be established that no other care arrangement or type of placement will prevent be the harm under A or B.

When considering 'absconding' there must be the element of escaping indefinitely from an imposed regime and "deliberately absenting herself for a limited period, knowingly and disdainfully in breach of the night-time curfews imposed" will not amount to absconding.

The court does not need to consider the principles or welfare, no order or least intervention established in Section 1 the Children Act 1989when determining Section 25.

Section 25 only applies to a child who is being looked after by a local authority and is therefore:

  1. Who are accommodated under Section 20(3) Children Act 1989; or
  2. Who are subject to a Care Order or an Interim Care Order.

Where a child is over 16 years old they must be under a Care Order or accommodated under Section 20 (3) where not providing such accommodation would mean their welfare would likely be seriously prejudiced and they are not accommodated in a community home under S.20(5).

There is no requirement for a young person aged 16 or older to consent to being accommodated under S.20 (3) or being placed in secure accommodation.

Children under police protective powers, and EPO, assessment order or detained under the Mental Health Act 1983 cannot be made subject to Secure provision.

Children who are under the age of 13 years can only be accommodated where the Secretary of State gives prior specific approval (see Section 6, Placements of Children under the age of 13 Years).

A 16 year old is not required to consent to their placement in a secure provision.

The 72 Hour Detention The Local Authority can secure a child for up to 72 hours without the Court's permission. This must be authorised in accordance with the Scheme of Delegation.

The criteria and process for determining the 72 hour detention are the same as for a S.25 order.

If the 72 hours finishes after 12.00 noon on a Sunday or public holiday, the expiry time will be automatically extended until 12.00 noon on the following "working day" (regulation 10(3), CSAR 1991) to enable an application to be bought to court for an interim S.25 Order.

The 72 hours is aggregated over 28 days and therefore multiple authorisations could be provided but practically this is very unlikely.

The start of the 72 hour period is the time when the child is detained and not the time that the authorisation was given. Therefore, where a child is missing the designated manager may authorisation detention which will only commence once the child is located and returned to the Local Authority care. Travelling time should be included within the 72 hours.

Where a child is accommodated under S.20 and under 16 years old a secure provision can only be entered if the parent / Special Guardian does not oppose the arrangement; otherwise a S.25 order will be required.

3. Decision to Place in Secure Accommodation

3.1 Consultation

At the point that it is determined that a placement in Secure Accommodation may be required legal advice must be taken.

The social worker should when making contemplating and throughout the subsequent process of identification, planning and placement, 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; Where the child does not have an Independent Visitor, arrangements must be made for such an appointment as soon as practicable;
  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.

3.2 Decision Process

Any decision to place a child in a secure placement on welfare grounds can only be made with the specific approval in accordance with the Scheme of Delegation. If made, the decision must be notified to those consulted and the child's Independent Visitor.

To seek approval, the child's social worker must provide the following in writing together with written legal advice and a Chronology:

  • The child's name, address, date of birth, ethnicity, school and names of those with Parental Responsibility;
  • The grounds / concerns / criteria;
  • The evidence that the criteria are met;
  • What alternatives have been tried / considered and the outcomes or that they have been comprehensively considered and rejected;
  • The aims of the proposed secure placement to include any assessments / interventions within the proposed placement;
  • The proposed exist plan;
  • The view of the child and the parents / others who have Parental Responsibility;
  • Whether a 72 hour authorisation is required and the reasons of doing so;
  • The view of the Team Manager.

4. Applying for a Secure Accommodation Order

The child's social worker must liaise with Legal Services when considering secure accommodation and inform them of the decision whether an application should be made. The if appropriate (subject to the child’s location being known).

The application is made on Form C1, with Supplement C20 on the Court Portal system with a statement (including all details provided for in the decision process) and chronology.

Once notice of the hearing is provided the application and notice should be served on the appropriate respondents social worker should also book a secure escort for the hearing if appropriate and permitted under the 72 hour provision.

Once the matter is issued, a children's guardian must be appointed unless the court decides it is unnecessary to do so to safeguard the child's interests.

The child must have legal representation unless he has been told that he is entitled to public funding and does not or chooses not to apply for public funding.

The Guardian may instruct the Solicitor for the Child unless there is a conflict between the Guardian and the child. In this eventuality the Guardian will be unrepresented.

Legal Aid is not available to parents on a secure order application and therefore they will not be represented.

The child should normally attend court for the hearing unless to do so would not be in their interests. The child should be consulted about attending and must be able to speak to their representative before and during the hearing. The court must informed on the need for secure arrangement to be in place and may direct that the child attends remotely.

The order, if made, will be in a prescribed form and will be drawn the Court on the same date to provide to the secure placement.

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.

5. Placements of Children under the age of 13 Years

A placement of a child under the age of 13 years in a secure children's home can only be made with the approval of the Secretary of State. This section summarises the procedures for obtaining approval and should be read alongside Department for Education Guidance - Secure Children's Homes: How to Place a Child aged under 13.

The following information should be gathered and shared initially with DfE by telephone (0208 142 5218 (24 hours / 7 days a week):

  • The name and date of birth of the child concerned;
  • The reasons why a secure placement is required;
  • Confirmation of whether an available bed in a SCH has been identified;
  • Details of what alternatives to a secure placement have been considered and why it is thought a secure placement is necessary;
  • Confirmation of whether the child is with you or whether they are missing from care (having run away);
  • Details of when you will go to court to seek a Secure Accommodation Order for the child;
  • Confirmation of whether you have approached the Secure Children's Homes to submit your referral.

During your initial phone call the DfE will provide a contact email address. After the call, you must email the following documents:

  • 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 including interactions with Children's Social Care; 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 DfE will review the documentation provided, assess the application and advise you of their decision as soon as possible. They will provide a certificate via email to confirm that the Secretary of State approves the secure placement.

When an application is made outside office hours, the care duty officer may be able to give verbal approval on behalf of the Secretary of State. They will only do this if the placement meets the criteria in section 25 of the Children Act 1989 and is deemed appropriate.

Approval from assistant director level or above will have to be provided and supporting documents sent by email the following working day. After having assessed the documents, the DfE will send the certificate that confirms the Secretary of State's approval.

6. Placement Request, Identification and Approval

Where the child's social worker considers that a Looked After Child requires a secure placement, and following agreement with the Agency Decision Maker, the social worker should contact the 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 arson / criminal damage, violence, harmful sexual behaviour and concerns around criminal exploitation or sexual exploitation.

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, 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 which came into force in May 2017, now enables local authorities to make placements in Secure accommodation under Sect 25 (1989 Children Act) by amending: the Children Act 1989; the Children's Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011 and Children's Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011 (Consequential and Transitional Provisions, etc). 2013; The Children (Secure Accommodation) Regulations 1991; Secure Accommodation (Scotland) Regulations 2013 and Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014.

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.

7. 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 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 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 manager of the Unit. The child's social worker and manager of the Unit 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 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 them.

In all cases, the child should be accompanied to the placement by the social worker and helped to settle in.

8. 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 health clinical commissioning group (CCG) and education services (including the Virtual Head), 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; 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 Care Assessment takes place as necessary. (Note: where a child moves into another CCG area, any treatment or service should be continued uninterrupted).

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 email 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.

Note: The child's Secure Accommodation (Criteria) Review is distinct and separate from the Looked After Review.

9. Support, Monitoring and Ending of Placements

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.

Once the Secure Accommodation Criteria Review establishes that the child no longer meets the criteria for Section 25 Secure Accommodation, the exit plan / Care Plan should be expedited.

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 developed at subsequent Looked After Reviews.

Where children are Section 20 Accommodated, then it will be particularly important to maintain visits and communication with the parents and others who have Parental Responsibility.

If the parent does not agree with the nature of the exit placement required which is being, or has been, assessed and considered as meeting the child's needs, then urgent consideration must be made as to whether Care Proceedings are required (see Care and Supervision Proceedings and the Public Law Outline Procedure).

Many children's placements in Secure Accommodation go well in the light of the clear structure and regime that such Units offer and feedback from staff / specialist reports should seek to focus on: the child's insight into their behaviour; development of confidence and self esteem; relationships with other residents, staff and family; progress in areas such as education and health / emotional health, (which may well have been of concern previously), etc.


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

The Secure Accommodation Unit will seek permission from the social worker for mobility and this should be responded to promptly. The Unit 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 provided by the Nominated Officer, who should have all the necessary information, including a report on the child's progress, to make the decision.

Ending of Placements

'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 significantly before it is thought the child will be ready and will start by researching possible options and exchanging some information etc.

Identifying a specific placement should therefore be made in a timely way so as to 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 (Criteria) Reviews Procedure.

When the child has transferred from the Secure Accommodation Unit, 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.