Fears raised over future of secure units for vulnerable young people

The future of four secure units which provide care for vulnerable children could be at risk following an English court ruling, it has emerged.

Court ruling on cross-border referrals could mean Scottish sites for vulnerable children are forced to close. Picture: John Devlin

The Scottish Government has warned a judgement by the High Court in London prohibits English judges from ordering that children be placed in secure accommodation in Scotland. It means these could be forced to close, as they rely on placements from English local authorities to help support themselves.

In a letter to the conveners of the education and justice committees, childcare minister Mark McDonald said: “While this was essentially a matter for the local authorities in England and the secure units, there are wider implications including the potential for unplanned closures of Scottish units if children from England were to be removed.

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“The phenomenon of England-to-Scotland referrals has become more pronounced recently, as lower demand from Scottish authorities has obliged the four independent providers to accept young ­people from England in order to remain viable.”

There are four independent secure units in Scotland, and a fifth run by Edinburgh City Council, which care for teenagers with behavioural difficulties who need to be supervised for their safety and that of others. Despite the current lack of referrals from Scottish councils, last year it was warned Scottish children were at risk of being sent to England due to a shortage of beds.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We are working with providers and Scotland Excel, who manage a framework contract on behalf of local authorities and Scottish Government, to monitor capacity issues and ensure that there are sufficient beds to meet the needs of Scottish young people.

“The Scotland Excel Framework contract is currently out to tender and we anticipate all four of the independent units will continue to provide secure care services until at least 2020.”