Secure children’s homes: how to place a child aged under 13

What local authorities need to do to place a child under 13 in a secure children’s home, and guidance on when it is appropriate to do so.

Applies to England

This guide is for local authorities who find it necessary to place a child under 13 in a secure children’s home (SCH) because of concerns about their welfare.

Guidance on placing young people under 18 in custody is also available.


You can only place a child in a SCH on welfare grounds if the child:

  • has a history of running away and is likely to run away from any other type of accommodation
  • is likely to suffer significant harm if they run away
  • is likely to injure themselves or someone else in any other type of accommodation

You can find more information in section 25 of the Children Act 1989.

Process to follow

You need to get approval from the Secretary of State for Education to be able to place a child aged under 13 in a SCH.

Please ensure you review this guidance before contacting the Department for Education (DfE) and ensure that you have all the required documentation, to enable DfE to assess your application as quickly as possible.

You must follow these steps to get the Secretary of State’s approval:

1. Phone the DfE children in care team

Make sure you have the following information when you call:

  • the name and date of birth of the child you wish to place in a SCH
  • the reasons why you want to place them in a SCH
  • confirmation of whether you have identified an available bed in a SCH
  • confirmation of whether the child is currently with you or whether they are missing from care
  • details of when you intend to go to court to seek a secure accommodation order for the child
  • details of the alternatives to a secure placement you have considered and why you think a secure placement is necessary
  • confirmation of whether you have approached the Secure Welfare Co-ordination Unit (SWCU) to submit your referral

Children in care team

24 hour helpline, available 7 days a week 0208 142 5218

2. Email documentation to DfE

During your initial phone call we will give you a contact email address. After the call, you must email us the following documents:

  • a letter signed at assistant director level or above explaining why you are applying, which should include:

    • confirmation that they have reviewed the application and in their view the section 25 criteria are met
    • confirmation that they have taken advice from their legal department
  • case history and chronology including a:

    • full case history recording interactions with social services
    • record of recent incidents, covering at least the last 3 months, which gives evidence of how the section 25 criteria are met
  • a detailed care plan that covers the period the child will be in secure accommodation, which as a minimum should include:

    • confirmation that the section 25 criteria are met
    • the alternatives to a secure placement that have been tried or considered
    • explanation of why the local authority thinks a secure placement is the best option for the child
    • what the aims of the secure placement are
    • what the young person’s needs and challenges are and how these will be addressed during the secure placement, including expectations of the secure provider
    • what the exit strategy is for the young person’s return back into the community or another placement
    • confirmation of the intended initial length of the secure accommodation order or placement
    • a list of assessments, for example psychiatric, psychological or health, that have been or will be carried out during the secure placement
    • identification of any therapeutic provision that will be required
    • the intended outcomes from the secure placement or preparation for transition

Please note that we are unable to provide approval without receipt of all of these documents.

DfE has more guidance on care planning.

3. Outcome

We will review the documentation you provide, assess your application and advise you of our decision as soon as possible. We will provide a certificate via email to confirm that the Secretary of State approves the secure placement.

Out-of-hours applications

If you made your application outside office hours, the care duty officer may give you verbal approval on behalf of the Secretary of State. They will only do this if the placement meets the criteria in section 25 of the Children Act 1989 and is deemed appropriate.

You will have to provide approval from assistant director level or above and email us the documents that support your application the following working day. Once we have assessed the documents we will send you the certificate that confirms the Secretary of State’s approval.

Alternatively, we will phone you if there are any issues with the application.

Secure placements under the 72-hour rule

A young person can be placed in secure accommodation without a court order for up to an aggregate of 72 hours in any period of 28 consecutive days. The young person cannot be detained beyond 72 hours unless a court order has been obtained. You can find more information in the Children (Secure Accommodation) Regulations 1991.

Local authorities wishing to place a young person under 13 under the 72-hour rule require the prior approval of the Secretary of State.

Updates to this page

Published 5 February 2015
Last updated 3 July 2020 + show all updates
  1. Updated contact details for the children in care team.

  2. Updated guidance, in particular on what documentation the DfE needs, out-of-hours applications, secure placements under the 72-hour rule and how we inform you of our decision.

  3. First published.

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