A High Court judge has described the lack of secure accommodation for troubled children as a ‘national scandal’ after being asked to make decisions on the future of a teenage girl in the care of a council in Wales .
Judge Francis, based at the Family Division of the High Court in London, said children with behavioral difficulties in ‘crisis’ situations were not ‘properly cared for’, after learning that 62 young people competed for two places.
He raised his concerns in an online hearing on Monday after learning that social services staff had been unable to find safe and suitable accommodation for a teenage girl in an unidentified area of Wales , even though her behavior made her vulnerable to exploitation and could endanger her life. .
The London-based judge did not blame the council involved and said he was satisfied staff had done all they reasonably could.
A solicitor leading the council’s legal team told him social workers had been unsuccessful in finding a placement in England or Wales and were exploring possibilities in Scotland.
“Across England and Wales on Friday, 62 children were in need of secure placement,” Dafydd Paxton said.
“Only two places were available – only one of them was suitable for a woman.”
The girl had been housed in an independent wing of a retirement home and cared for by two caregivers, the judge learned.
She was now being treated in a psychiatric ward of a hospital, where most of the other patients were adults.
Judge Francis said everyone agreed the service was unsuitable for the girl and described it as ‘the least worst option’.
Hospital bosses had agreed to continue to house him on the ward while social workers searched for suitable accommodation, the judge was told.
He is due to review the girl’s case next week.
“It’s a national scandal,” Judge Francis told the hearing.
“It is outrageous that these young people in absolute crisis are not being properly cared for.”
He said the girl’s case was ‘tragic’ and added: ‘I find it incredibly upsetting…that she cannot be cared for in line with the duties we place on public bodies.’
Judge Francis oversaw a public hearing, but said the girl could not be identified in media reports of the case.
The judge also said the board and hospital trust involved could not be named in case these details created an identity puzzle that would lead to the girl’s name being revealed.
A number of judges have expressed concern about the lack of safe accommodation for troubled children in recent years.
In July 2021, one of Britain’s top magistrates described as “scandalous” the lack of “appropriate arrangements” for children who need approved secure accommodation.
Supreme Court Justice Lord Stephens said the issue was a scandal with “all the makings of a tragedy”.
He laid out his thoughts in a Supreme Court ruling on a case involving another vulnerable teenager.