Lack of secure accommodation – a damning judgment

Re X (Secure Accommodation: Lack of Provision): [2023] EWHC 129 (Fam)

As increasing numbers of child are being made subject to Deprivation of Liberty Orders (DoLs), practitioners representing children in the youth justice system should be aware of what they are and how to work with them.  YJLC are hosting a webinar on DoLs: what criminal practitioners need to know, on Wednesday 1 February 2023 at 1pm.

In this judgment, the president of the family division hopes to draw public attention to lack of appropriate accommodation for children whose welfare and behaviour requires that they be looked after within an environment which restricts their liberty.


This matter relates to a 15-year-old child, X, who had suffered significant trauma and whose complex needs had meant they required restrictions on their liberty to keep them safe.

X was made subject to a DoLs. These are orders made by the High Court (Family Division) which  deprive children of their liberty, often in unregistered or unregulated placements, outside of the statutory regime (Secure Accommodation Orders s.25 Children Act 1989). The High Court has the power to do this outside of the statutory regime under their ‘inherent jurisdiction’ . The placements are not subject to same statutory reviews as secure orders.

This judgment illustrates the substantial difficulties local authorities and individual social workers face in finding secure accommodation for children in extreme crisis. Specialist units are limited in number and the number of secure beds is far out-stripped by the number of vulnerable young people who need to be placed in them. Ultimately X was given a secure order, albeit placed in Scotland, but as the President pointed out, once cases of this nature have been transferred to the High Court and the judge has sought to bring pressure to bear on the authorities, a secure placement is often located.’ [para 61]

What is striking about this judgment, sadly is the president of the family court division’s criticism the Secretary of State, who was ordered to attend court to set out its position: ‘The problem being faced by those trying to find a secure placement for X is not a one-off, it was, I explained, one being shared by the 70 or so others for whom places were being sought that day, and they and their forebears who have faced similar odds for the past decade or so, every time that these and similar statistics are quoted. The lack of secure placements is longstanding and chronic. My view, expressed during the hearing, was that the stance taken by the Department for Education, to the effect that it was not its problem and was the responsibility of individual local authorities, displayed a level of complacency bordering on cynicism. It was, I observed, shocking to see that the Department for Education seemed to be simply washing its hands of this chronic problem.’ [para 55]


In this judgment, the president sets out his frustration at the current system and urges the government to take responsibility and to protect some of the country’s most vulnerable children.

Children in the youth justice system, who are also on care orders or interim care orders, are being made subject to DoLs, therefore youth justice practitioners need to understand them and know how to work with them. To learn more about the family justice process and the problems that a criminal justice professional might encounter see YJLC’s Guide to DoLs for Criminal Practitioners (this will be published following the webinar on the 1st February).

Written by Laura Cooper, Co-Head of the Youth Justice Legal Centre