BARNSLEY Council spent more than £200,000 on housing looked-after children under the age of 16 in ‘unregulated accommodation’ over a 12-month period - despite it being made illegal two years ago.

However council bosses have said that almost all other local authorities are currently in the same position.

Unregulated accommodation relates to a setting that is not registered by Ofsted.

A Freedom of Information request revealed the council spent a total of £217,743 on support agencies from March 2022 to March 2023 to cover the support costs of youngsters under the age of 16 in unregulated accommodation.

On fewer than five occasions looked-after children have had to be placed into these conditions, and fewer than five children under 16 were included.

They were placed in the accommodation for a total of 139 days.

Following amendments to the Care Planning, Placement and Case Review Regulations, it has been illegal to place children under 16 years of age in an unregulated placement since September 2021.

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The types of placements that are now banned for under 16s are ones that are not registered children’s homes.

It is also illegal to operate a children’s home providing care and accommodation if it is not registered.

A council spokesperson told the Chronicle: “For a very small number of children who have complex needs, we may appropriately use unregulated accommodation for short periods of time whilst trying to find suitable alternative accommodation.”

Carly Speechley, director of children’s services at the council, said the accommodation is used as a last resort - and a lack of accommodation has led a large number of councils to be forced to use it.

She said: “Unregulated accommodation wouldn’t be something like a hotel or a bed and breakfast.

“An example might be a child - generally aged 15, 16 or 17 - who has had a placement breakdown.

“We put a placement search out and sometimes we get offers from organisations that aren’t registered by Ofsted.

“We always do out checks with other local authorities who have used them to make sure they’re suitable.”

She added that the council is facing a ‘challenge’ when it comes to placing children into the right settings.

“There just aren’t enough places available,” she added.

“That leaves us in a situation where we have to use unregulated placements but that doesn’t mean that we aren’t doing the proper checks.

“It’s a challenge for us.

“All local authorities are finding themselves in this position.

“We don’t want to do it - but it’s something that we have to.”

The council have drawn up plans to ensure that more regulated accommodation is available for those who need it - and to increase the number of foster carers in Barnsley.

New measures, which were unveiled by the government in March and will come into effect later this year, mean that children in or leaving care aged 16 and 17 will be better protected through new regulations that ban unregulated accommodation.

Minister for Children, Families and Wellbeing, Claire Coutinho said: “Every child deserves a safe and stable home with a support network that looks out for them.

“Supported accommodation at its best does that, while also helping young people in care develop the confidence they need to lead a fulfilling life after care.

“But we know that for too many, standards have fallen short.

“I am determined that this kind of accommodation comes up to the same high standard across the country, which will help give children a better chance of success in the future.”