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.

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.

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

1. Phone the Department for Education (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 (having run away)
  • details of when you intend to go to court to seek a secure accommodation order for the child
  • details of what alternatives to a secure placement you have considered and why you think a secure placement is more appropriate

Try to phone us as early in the day as possible and before 5pm. This is so we have enough time to assess your application and give you the outcome on the same day you are applying.

If you need to make an emergency placement after 5pm, phone our out-of-hours helpline and ask to speak to the children in care duty officer.

Children in care team

Office hours (9am to 5pm): 0207 783 8086

Out-of-hours helpline (after 5pm): 0207 340 7057

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
  • the child’s current care plan, which should include:
    • the aims of the secure placement
    • details of the proposed exit strategy from the secure placement

We will discuss the information you give us with Ofsted. Ofsted may contact you to discuss the case or to ask for more details.

3. Outcome

We will aim to email you a certificate on the same day you made the application. This certificate will confirm that the Secretary of State approves the secure placement.

We will also send you a hard copy of the certificate by post.

We will phone you if there are any issues with the application.

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.

You will have to 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.

Published 5 February 2015