Bournemouth judge says teenager may die due to lack of secure homes

A teenager wearing a hooded top Image copyright bbc
Image caption No secure beds for teenagers have become free for six weeks, the court heard

A vulnerable teenager could die because of a long waiting list for secure residential places, a judge has said.

The 16-year-old boy was at risk of harming himself or being killed because he was living in an inner-city area, Bournemouth Family Court heard.

Judge Martin Dancey told the court he would raise concerns with the government about "under-resourcing" in the secure accommodation sector.

The Department for Education said councils had a duty to uphold capacity.

'Drugs den'

The teenager's adoptive parents sent him in December to a secure ranch in the United States which caters for behaviourally challenged young people, the court heard.

After a visit to the UK, he was unable to return to the ranch in March because of the coronavirus pandemic, the judge said.

He then absconded from home, committing a series of crimes, including spending five days in a "drugs den" in west Dorset and threatening his father with a knife, the court heard.

Dorset Council initially felt there was "no point" in applying for a secure accommodation order because of the long waiting list, Judge Dancey said.

The teenager was now number 46 on the list, with no placements having become available in the past six weeks, the court heard.

'Criminal exploitation'

The judge said: "The important message is that 'E' is at risk of harm to himself or others, possibly fatally so, unless a secure placement can be found for him.

"The problem, put simply, is the lack of secure placements available in England.

"That is a resourcing issue quite beyond the powers of the local authority."

He granted an interim care order, placing E in a Dorset cottage to remove him from "the immediate risks posed by drugs and criminal/sexual exploitation in Southampton".

In a statement, the Department for Education said it recognised there was a "lack of capacity in the system".

It said the government had invested more than £40m to improve and expand secure homes, although local authorities were responsible for ensuring that there were sufficient beds.

Dorset Council said: "We are doing everything we can to find the most suitable placement for this young man.

"Nationally, there is a lack of specialist provision and we have raised this with both Ofsted and the Department for Education."

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