Introduction to children’s homes

Updated 6 October 2023

Applies to England

This guide is specific to children’s homes and provides information that only applies to them. However, you must also read our main guide to registration, which applies to all children’s social care services.

About children’s homes

The Care Standards Act 2000 says that ‘an establishment is a children’s home… if it provides care and accommodation wholly or mainly for children’. Children are defined as people who are aged under 18. Young people aged 18 and over may also live or stay in a children’s home, but they must be in a minority. See guidance on adults living in children’s homes.

About secure children’s homes/schools

A secure children’s home/school is a specific type of children’s home approved by the Secretary of State to provide a locked environment and to restrict children’s liberty.

If you want to open a secure children’s home/school, you must take some extra steps before you apply to register.

About registration

If you want to run a children’s home, you must register with us before you can open it. It is an offence under the Care Standards Act 2000 to run a children’s home without the appropriate registration. This requirement to register helps to prevent unsuitable people from owning, operating, managing or working within children’s homes.

You must satisfy us that you meet a number of legal requirements, including those in:

  • Care Standards Act 2000
  • The Care Standards Act 2000 (Registration)(England) Regulations 2010
  • The Children’s Homes (England) Regulations 2015

You must also take account of the guide to the children’s homes regulations including the quality standards. You must have regard to this guide in interpreting and meeting The Children’s Homes (England) Regulations 2015.

Multi-building children’s homes

You can apply to register a children’s home with multiple buildings. This can accommodate up to 6 children in up to 4 buildings within one single registration. If you want to register a multi-building children’s home, please contact to discuss this with an inspector before applying. Find out more about multi-building children’s homes.

When to register as a children’s home

Examples of establishments that must register as children’s homes include:

  • homes for children who are looked after by a local authority, either as a short-term measure or more long term, including those that accommodate disabled children
  • secure children’s homes/schools
  • homes that provide both care and accommodation for children aged 16 and over in order to prepare them for independent living
  • homes that provide short breaks, in which children may not be looked after by a local authority
  • homes that are refuges – these must also apply to the Department for Education (DfE) for a certificate to operate as a refuge
  • schools that provide accommodation for one child or more, for more than 295 days each year
  • schools that provide accommodation for children who are not pupils of the school

Schools that also need to register as children’s homes

As stated above, you must also register your school as a children’s home if you provide accommodation for either:

  • one child or more, for more than 295 days each year
  • children who are not pupils of the school

This means you will have 2 registrations: your existing one with the DfE as a school and a new one with Ofsted as a children’s home.

If you want to open a new school that also intends to provide accommodation as described above, which would mean it needs to register as a children’s home too, you will need to prepare 2 separate registration applications.

Secure children’s homes/schools

If you want to register a secure children’s home/school, you must first contact the DfE for secure children’s homes or the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) for secure schools. This is to get the Secretary of State’s approval under The Children (Secure Accommodation) Regulations 1991.

If you are planning a new building or to carry out any refurbishment or building works, you must share your plans with the DfE/MoJ. They will get the views of specialist architectural advisers and Ofsted before you carry out any works. The DfE/MoJ will discuss your plans with you.

We may visit at various stages throughout the building process, with specialist architects, to review any existing building or new development site.

If the DfE/MoJ agree that your building can be approved by the Secretary of State to restrict children’s liberty, they will then direct you to our registration guidance and the memorandum of understanding between Ofsted and the DfE.

When you have nearly completed your refurbishment or building work, we will make a final visit with the architects. The architects will provide a written report on whether the building is fit for purpose. This report will also include our views.

If the building is fit to be registered, we will ask you to apply to register. Do not submit your application for registration until the building is almost ready for occupancy. We will agree the timing of your application with you.

When you do not need to register

Some types of accommodation for children do not fall under the definition of children’s homes and therefore do not have to register as one.

These include:

  • a place where children live with their parents, relatives or foster carers
  • approved bail or probation hostels
  • hospitals or clinics
  • schools, unless they offer accommodation for more than 295 days
  • further education colleges
  • 16 to 19 academies, unless they are also approved by the Secretary of State to provide accommodation for the purpose of restricting the liberty of children and young people
  • a place only used to provide day care
  • residential holiday schemes for disabled children
  • young offender institutions
  • secure training centres
  • places where children (other than disabled children) are accommodated while on holiday or taking part in leisure, sporting, cultural or educational activities where each individual child stays there for less than 28 days in any 12-month period – this includes holiday homes and residential events that provide these activities for children who have a home elsewhere, such as in a children’s home or foster home, as long as that holiday or event does not last longer than 27 days
  • places where children aged 16 or 17 live while they are on a training course or apprenticeship, on holiday or taking part in leisure, sporting, cultural or educational activities
  • residential family centres
  • supported accommodation from April 2023 – providers of supported accommodation must register with Ofsted if they provide support and accommodation for children looked after and/or care leavers aged 16 and 17

Before you apply

For your children’s home, you will need:

  • to appoint a manager
  • a statement of purpose that sets out the overall aims and objectives of the children’s home

If you are an organisation, such as a company, you will also need to appoint a person known as a ‘responsible individual’ who represents the organisation to Ofsted. You do not need to appoint a responsible individual if you are a sole trader or partnership.

Previous disqualifications

If you have been disqualified, you must contact us to apply for written consent before you apply for registration. Anyone else connected to your application who is disqualified must do the same.

It is an offence to knowingly employ a disqualified person in a children’s home without written consent from us. You must also ask us for written consent to employ a disqualified person at a children’s home, including as a volunteer.

If we give consent for anyone to apply for registration, this does not automatically mean that we will grant registration.

You can find a full list of reasons for disqualification in our social care enforcement policy and in the Disqualification from Caring for Children (England) Regulations 2002.

What to provide when you apply

You must submit an SC1 application. As part of this, you must include:

  • your details as the provider and, if you are an organisation such as a company, the responsible individual
  • details of the manager(s)
  • details of any relevant director(s)
  • your statement of purpose
  • your safeguarding policy
  • your missing child policy
  • your behaviour management policy (including restraint)
  • your prevention of bullying policy
  • your location assessment
  • your complaints procedure
  • your equalities policy
  • a copy of a certificate of insurance or written confirmation that insurance will be provided (for example, a letter of intention and an insurance quote)
  • your children’s guide
  • a copy of planning permission granted, a certificate of lawfulness, a copy of a planning application or evidence that planning permission is not required
  • a financial reference
  • your business plan
  • your cash-flow forecast
  • if applicable, your last 2 annual reports, including reports for any holding company and any subsidiaries
  • if applicable, your last 2 annual accounts
  • if applicable, your charitable objects
  • if you are applying to register as a partnership, a copy of the agreement or a document that clearly establishes the partnership as a legal entity

Location assessment

Your location assessment must show the steps you have taken to make sure that the home is needed locally, is in the right place and is safe, and that you promote positive opportunities for children. There is no set format for location assessments. There is non-statutory guidance available to help you to think about how to approach this task.

You will also need to consult relevant local bodies and services, including the police and local authority children’s services, and consider their views.

You must show that you understand the environment, community, risks and services available, and that you can protect and promote children’s safety and welfare.

Your location assessment must address the following broad issues:

  • safeguarding concerns
  • accessibility and availability of local and specialist services and transport links
  • whether you will be able to recruit suitable staff in the local area
  • whether the location of the home helps to meet the needs of children who will live there

The assessment should consider the needs of the children who are expected to live in the home. For example, you should assess whether the location:

  • puts children at risk of exploitation due to local criminal activity
  • is close to other children’s homes
  • is close to local criminal ‘hot spots’
  • is close to environmental hazards such as reservoirs, busy roads or railway lines
  • is in a neighbourhood where children can flourish
  • has accessible, available and suitable local education, leisure, faith, cultural and healthcare services

Inspectors will ask you for evidence of your contact with the host local authority, and how your location assessment has informed your plans for the home you want to open.

Directors of children’s homes

You may need to supply details of any director(s) in your SC1 application.

If your organisation’s sole purpose is to carry on children’s homes, you should supply each director’s details in the SC1 and each director must also submit an SC2 form.

If your organisation does not solely carry on children’s homes, you only need to supply details of directors who are involved in the children’s home in the SC1 and only those directors need to submit an SC2 form. ‘Involved’ could include directors involved in finance, human resources or in some other capacity.

It is your responsibility to identify which directors need to submit an SC2 form. If you are unclear, we recommend that you take legal advice.

We do not require directors to get a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) certificate.

We may want to interview directors, at our discretion.

If a director is the responsible individual, the requirements for that role apply rather than those for a director.

Applying to manage 2 children’s home

We may consider registering a manager to manage 2 homes. We only do this when we are satisfied that the manager has the experience, qualifications and skills to manage each home and the care of the children effectively and on a daily basis.

To determine whether a manager is suitable to do this, we usually consider factors including:

  • the statement of purpose, the size of the homes, the number and needs of the children to be accommodated, and the services to be provided in each of the homes
  • the reason for the arrangement for one manager to manage both homes
  • the location of the homes and the distance between them
  • the suitability of the management and delegation arrangements in place (the roles and responsibilities of the responsible individual and the registered manager, and of any deputy manager)
  • the operational plan that sets out how the homes will be supported when they share a registered manager and what contingencies are in place to provide continuity of care and stability for children (including what the homes will do if the manager post is vacant and how they will manage recruitment)

The manager must complete an SC2 form for each home they are applying to manage. Each registration is separate. We will consider them on their own merits and make separate decisions about the manager’s suitability to manage each home.

Managers must demonstrate in their written application and interview that they have the appropriate experience, qualifications and skills to meet the requirements of each children’s home. This includes telling us about examples that show their skills. They must demonstrate that they have strong management skills and well-developed leadership skills and characteristics, for example:

  • a secure knowledge and understanding of any specialisms offered for children
  • a proven commitment to an approach to providing care that meets children’s individual needs.
  • a history of strong management oversight of practice, including monitoring and reviewing performance, and leading activities to improve practice
  • the ability to work flexibly, respond to unforeseen challenges and maintain resilience
  • the ability to create strong and effective relationships with children and staff

If the applicant is suitable to manage one home but does not have the skills and experience to manage both, we will make our decision about whether to grant each registration based on the order in which we received the applications.

If an existing registered manager is applying to register as the manager for an additional home, the decision only relates to that application.

If we decide to refuse the second application, we will issue a notice of proposal. We will explain to the applicant that they can ask to withdraw the second application, and we will accept their request unless there are safeguarding concerns. If the applicant does not withdraw their application, we will proceed to a notice of decision and continue to follow the refusal process. The applicant will become disqualified and will need to apply for written consent to continue to manage the home they are already registered for.

See our social care enforcement policy for more details of what happens if we issue a notice of decision to refuse any application to manage a home.


You will need to pay an application fee for each registration.

Registration timescales

Once we have received everything necessary for your application to register, we usually make a decision within 47 days. We recommend that you allow at least 16 weeks from the start of your application before you intend to open. You cannot operate before you’re registered.

Approval for secure children’s homes/schools

When we are making our decision about the registration of a secure children’s home/school, we will notify the DfE/MoJ so that the Secretary of State can consider approval for you to restrict children’s liberty, under The Children (Secure Accommodation) Regulations 1991.

If we refuse your registration

If we refuse any applications to register a children’s home from individual providers, partnerships or managers, those individuals, the partners who make up the partnership and the managers will become disqualified from fostering a child privately.

Unless they have written consent from Ofsted, disqualified people cannot:

  • carry on a children’s home or be employed in one
  • manage a children’s home
  • have a financial interest in a children’s home
  • work at a children’s home

A person who does any of the above while disqualified commits an offence. You may not employ in a children’s home a person who is disqualified unless you have obtained Ofsted’s written consent.

If you are part of an organisation that has had an application to register refused, you will not be disqualified. For more information on disqualification and how to seek our consent, see the social care enforcement policy.

After registration

You will receive a certificate of registration.

You must tell us immediately when you start to accommodate children.

You need to pay an annual fee for each children’s home you register. We will contact you when any fees are due.

What you need to tell us

You must use the SC3 form to tell us about any changes to registered managers.

You can find further information about changes to registered children’s social care services.

Conditions of registration

Conditions of registration restrict the services that your children’s home is registered to provide. It is an offence not to comply with them.

After registration, you will receive a certificate that details the conditions of your registration. It is an offence to fail, without reasonable excuse, to comply with any condition on your registration. The social care enforcement policy sets out information about actions we may take if you do not follow your conditions.

We always apply a condition that sets out the total number of children that you can accommodate at the home. If you want to provide care and accommodation for a mother and her baby, the baby counts towards the total unless the home is registered as a single-bed home.

We may also apply conditions based on your statement of purpose, such as for:

  • single-gender occupancy
  • arrangements for short breaks
  • specifics to do with categories of registration

If we grant registration with conditions that you have not agreed, you may object by making a ‘written representation’ to us. For information on this, see the social care enforcement policy.

Once registered, if you wish to provide other services, you will need to apply for a variation to your conditions of registration.

Categories of registration

Categories of registration list the types of children’s needs that your home will cater for. These are set out in the regulations. They have not been updated to reflect the SEND code of practice. Ofsted is legally obliged to categorise homes in this way.

You can have more than one category of registration or none. You must decide what you will include as categories of registration in your statement of purpose, if any, depending on the services you offer.

The categories are:

  • children with emotional and/or behavioural difficulties (EBD)
  • children with physical disabilities (PD)
  • children with learning disabilities (LD)
  • children with mental disorders, excluding learning disability (MD)
  • children with present drug dependence (D)
  • children with present alcohol dependence (A)
  • children with sensory impairment (SI)

We do not generally apply any categories of registration to secure children’s homes/schools.


We inspect children’s homes as set out in the social care common inspection framework.

If you are registered between 1 April and 30 September, we will inspect you at least once between 1 October and 31 March in the same financial year. If you are registered between 1 October and 31 March, we will first inspect you between the following 1 April and 30 September.

Complaints and concerns

We may receive complaints or concerns about a children’s home. We will take these seriously and we may take actions as a result, as set out in our guidance about social care concerns.

There is also guidance on how we respond to concerns in our social care enforcement policy.


Our social care enforcement policy provides more information about what will happen if you do not meet the relevant regulations.

List of regulations

Children’s homes that provide care and accommodation for adults

A children’s home may, at certain times, provide care and accommodation for young adults as well as children. This guidance gives more information for these children’s homes.

A children’s home is required by law to provide care and accommodation ‘wholly or mainly’ for children. A child is defined as a person aged under 18. This does not prevent a home from accommodating a young adult or adults, if it usually accommodates more children than adults.

We recognise that a children’s home may, at times, have larger numbers of young adults aged 18 or over living at the home than children.

You do not need to apply for a variation to the conditions of registration to accommodate an adult. You do, however, need to apply the principles set out in the section below and have an agreed person-centred plan for each young adult.

We recognise that it is not always right for a child who becomes an adult while placed at a children’s home to leave the home immediately. It may be in their best interests to remain there for a period beyond their 18th birthday. Reasons for them staying may include:

  • their moving-on placement has fallen through, and the placing authority is seeking alternative arrangements
  • they are in education and wishes to finish their course
  • they want to remain with siblings who are also accommodated at the home
  • there is an agreement, including with the young adult, that they are not yet ready to leave, and a focused plan is in place to achieve this

While it will generally not be appropriate or in resident children’s best interests to move an adult into a children’s home, there are circumstances where this could be appropriate. We will always consider the individual case. Examples could include the following:

  • a young person has recently left a children’s home setting and their placement has broken down or it has become clear their needs indicate a return to a children’s home setting
  • a school registered as a children’s home offers placements up to 19 years old and accepts a young adult
  • a short-break children’s homes offers a placement to a young adult as part of short-term, agreed plan

Guidelines for judging if a home is meeting the ‘wholly or mainly’ definition

In most cases, we expect that a children’s home will accommodate more children than adults. We recognise that, at times and due to children turning 18 while living at a children’s home, it may have larger numbers of young adults than children for short periods.

We will look carefully at any periods during which the home has accommodated more adults than children since the last inspection. We will determine whether the ‘wholly or mainly’ principle was met over the course of that period.

We always look carefully at the plans for young adults and the home’s statement of purpose. This will help us determine whether the ‘wholly or mainly’ principle continues to be met.

Where a home is, or has been, accommodating adults only, we will look at its overall intention. For example, if a home accommodates one child, and the child becomes an adult while living there, we will want to know whether the home intends to continue offering accommodation for them. In this case, we would expect the home to apply to register with the Care Quality Commission (CQC) (because it is unlikely to be operating as a children’s home). The home would need to remain registered with Ofsted until this is granted.

Principles to apply where a young adult resides at a children’s home

In all cases where a young adult resides at a children’s home, we expect you to apply the following principles:

  • identify the needs of every young adult living at the home, and any risk towards and impact on any children at the home
  • minimise the risks to, and any negative impacts on, children
  • have a regularly updated and reviewed person-centred moving-on plan and care plan for every young adult
  • if necessary, have an agreed transition plan if a young adult will need support from adult social care
  • minimise any delays to plans for children moving on when they become young adults

When necessary, and/or as a part of an inspection, we will review any delay to the agreed timetable/plan for a young adult to move on from your children’s home. We do not expect young adults to experience unnecessary delays.

We will also consider the balance of children and young adults you are accommodating or have accommodated since your last inspection. We will determine whether the home has continued to be ‘wholly or mainly’ for children and to offer services in line with its statement of purpose. This is to ensure that you use the ‘wholly or mainly’ policy in the best interests of children and young adults.

If the purpose of your home has changed to an adult service, it may require registration with CQC as explained earlier. If this is the case, we will work with you to minimise any impact on those living in the home during a period of moving across from Ofsted to CQC registration.

While you remain registered with us as a children’s home, you must continue to meet the requirements of the Children’s Homes (England) Regulations 2015. The regulations apply to children and young adults living at the home. We may take action or impose conditions to address any shortfall identified in the quality of care for those children and young adults.

Our duty to inspect children’s homes, provided by section 31(3)(a) of the Care Standards Act 2000, remains in place even if your home only accommodates young adults at the time of the inspection. Where possible, we will consider outcomes for any child who has lived in the home since the last inspection. We may take action or impose conditions to address any impact that young adults accommodated at a home are having on children living in the home.

We may choose to case-track or speak to any young adult who is resident in the home as part of any inspection.

Unregistered providers

If we have a reasonable belief that you are providing care and accommodation to a child/children without registration, we will ordinarily issue you with a warning letter. However, we will decide what action to take on a case-by-case basis, and we may decide to carry out a criminal investigation even if we have not issued you with a warning letter.

If your establishment requires registration, you must submit a complete application to register as a children’s home as soon as possible or stop operating. It remains an offence to provide or manage a children’s home without registration while we process your application.

If we refuse registration and you continue to operate the establishment, you would still be operating an unregistered setting and be liable for prosecution.