New reports from the Children's Commissioner with important recommendations for practitioners supporting 16 and 17 year olds

Since February 2023 the National Children’s Bureau have been working closely with the Department for Education, Ofsted, local authorities and supported accommodation providers across England as part of the Sector Awareness and Provider Preparedness programme. We see this as an important first step towards better outcomes for a group of children and young people who often do not get the support they need to reach their potential.  

The new regulations and quality standards are intended to improve the experiences and outcomes of 16- and 17- year olds in or leaving care and living in supported accommodation. When the programme began, there was a lot to learn about what would work in implementing these in an unregulated sector. The process of registration and ongoing regulation of supported accommodation will create the necessary accountability in the system for those providers not doing enough, as well as identifying and sharing the good practice that already exists in the sector.  

We’ve engaged with over 1000 providers as they’ve moved through the initial registration process and it has become clear that, whilst there are different confidence levels in engaging with a regulatory framework, there is a genuinely high level of commitment to ensuring their services are ready to meet the requirements of the regulations – and to ensure that young people experience high quality support from skilled and experienced staff who care about them. 

Homelessness and supported accommodation 

The Report from the Children’s Commissioners Office in November 2023 highlights a number of concerns and challenges for 16- and 17- year olds presenting as homeless, including “practice which appears to show that local authorities are not adhering to statutory guidance”. NCB agrees that urgent action is needed to improve the situation of young people being placed via Section 17 of the Children’s Act 1989 or housing legislation, outside of the safeguards that having looked after status brings. 

NCB are clear that, despite the opportunity for improvement through the regulations and quality standards, Supported Accommodation should not be seen as the default option for 16- and 17- year olds. An assessment of needs should be undertaken to identify the appropriate setting that meets the needs of individual young people and plans should be reviewed regularly in line with statutory requirements. This could include foster care or children’s homes. Where supported accommodation is identified as the appropriate option for a young person, careful consideration should be given to the category of supported accommodation that can meet their specific needs. Any placement should be made only with a supported accommodation provider who is registered with Ofsted. 

Unaccompanied asylum seeking young people and supported accommodation 

In addition to the needs of homeless young people, the specific needs of unaccompanied asylum seeking young people have been raised throughout the sector awareness and provider preparedness programme as well as through the recent report from the Children’s Commissioner on unaccompanied children in need of care. NCB agrees with the Children’s Commissioner report which highlights the issues of complex trauma for this group of young people. Where registered supported accommodation is identified as an appropriate placement we would expect staff to have the necessary skills to help a young person to thrive, most importantly: 

  • to have been trained in trauma-informed practice;  

  • to have a clear understanding of their diverse cultural, religious and communication needs; and  

  • to be able to effectively support young people to identify and engage with the relevant legal and immigration support. 

We have worked with a number of supported accommodation providers currently going through the registration process with Ofsted to develop learning examples of how supported accommodation can support positive outcomes for this group of young people which we will be sharing in the coming weeks. 

Next steps for the sector awareness and provider preparedness programme 

Over the coming months NCB will be continuing to work with existing providers of supported accommodation as they move through the next stages of the registration process, as well as new providers registering with Ofsted.  

We acknowledge ongoing concerns in the sector that many types of provider can submit an application to register, for example concerns regarding caravans or tents. However, NCB believes that it would be extraordinary for accommodation of this nature to be able to demonstrate that it meets the requirements of the regulations, so it is unlikely such providers will be registered by Ofsted. 

NCB has seen first-hand the hard work of providers in this sector are doing, as part of the ongoing improvement journey in social care for all children and young people. This critical step in improving accountability and quality of regulated supported accommodation remains crucial in driving up standards and ensuring that those providers who are not meeting the required standards are no longer able to lawfully provide support for 16- and 17- year olds in or leaving care.