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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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