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Our advice service

We provide advice to parents, grandparents, relatives, friends and kinship carers who are involved with children’s services in England or need their help. We can help you understand processes and options when social workers or courts are making decisions about your child’s welfare.

Our advice service is free, independent and confidential.

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By phone or email

To speak to an adviser, please call our free and confidential advice line 0808 801 0366 (Monday to Friday 9.30am to 3pm, excluding Bank Holidays). For Textphone dial 18001 followed by the advice line number. Or you can ask us a question via email using our advice enquiry form.

Discuss on our forums

Our online advice forums are an anonymous space where parents and kinship carers (also known as family and friends carers) can get legal and practical advice, build a support network and learn from other people’s experiences.

Advice on our website

Our get help and advice section describes the processes that you and your family are likely to go through, so that you know what to expect. Our webchat service can help you find the information and advice on our website which will help you understand the law and your rights.

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Secure accommodation order

For a child to be kept in a secure placement for longer than 72 hours, children’s services must have a secure accommodation order.

These orders are 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:

  • The child has a history of running away. The order may be made if the 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.
  • The child is likely to injure himself or someone else if they were kept in any other form of placement.

It is unlawful to restrict the liberty of a child by placing them in a secure placement, no matter how briefly, unless one of these two conditions applies.

Children’s services must first get specific approval from the Secretary of State if they want to place a child under 13 in a secure placement.

Children’s Services can apply for a secure accommodation order for a maximum period of:

  • 3 months (for the first application)
  • 6 months (subsequent applications)

The child must be legally represented at the hearing. They may decline representation but they must have been offered the option. Without confirmation of this, the court cannot make the order.

Secure accommodation should only ever be used for the minimum period necessary to ensure a child’s welfare. A child’s liberty should not continue to be restricted once the reasons for the secure placement no longer apply. This is the case even if the time frame for which the order was made has not yet expired.

Only a small number of local authorities have a secure children’s home in their area. Many children who need a secure placement will be placed away from their home area. The Children and Social Work Act 2017 amended the Children Act 1989 to allow local authorities in England and Wales to place children in secure placements in Scotland.

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