Almost 1,500 children in England are locked up by the state at a cost of a third of a billion a year

The Children’s Commissioner for England
report shines a light on the hundreds of children in England who are
locked up in institutions across the country. The report, “Who are they? Where are they? Children locked up
gathers together for the first time all the data currently available
about some of the most vulnerable children in England – those living in
secure children’s homes, youth justice settings, mental health wards and
other residential placements, either for their own safety or the safety
of others.


The report seeks to identify who these children are and where they
living, the costs of keeping them locked up, whether these institutions
always meet their complex needs and whether different decisions could
have been taken to prevent these children being locked away.

Some of the main findings in the report include:

  • There were 1,465 children in England securely detained in 2018, of
    whom 873 were in held in youth justice settings, 505 were in mental
    health wards and 87 were in secure children’s homes for their own
    welfare. However, this number is likely to be an underestimate due to
    gaps in the data.
  • We spend around £300m a year on 1,465 children in England –
    excluding what we spend on those ‘invisible’ children whose settings we
    don’t have information about.
  • Medium Secure Mental Health Settings are the most expensive form of
    provision, at £1,611 a day or £588,015 a year. Secure Children’s Homes
    have an estimated cost per child of £210,000 per year, with Secure
    Training Centres at £160,000 a year and Young Offender Institutions at
  • There are an additional 211 children whose Deprivation of Liberty
    has been authorised by a court, who are locked away but whose
    whereabouts in the system is invisible. These are children who do not
    show up in the published data because they don’t fit into any of the
    categories for which there is published data. This number is also likely
    to be an underestimate. We do not know where these children live or how
    long they have been there.
  • Even for those children we know about, there is only limited
    information about how long children stay in secure settings, how long
    they wait for a place, whether they face delays in the transfer of care
    to the community and what happens when they leave.
  • NHS England has provided the Children’s Commissioner with its
    current list of the specialism, unit type and number of beds for
    children in mental health units across England. In the South West, there
    is only one secure mental health bed per 100,000 children, while in the
    East Midlands there are nearly eight. The number of beds in England is
    significantly lower than the figures available for children detained
    under the Mental Health Act.

The Children’s Commissioner makes a number of recommendations in her report, including:

  • Calling for local authorities to provide data to the Children’s
    Commissioner, Ofsted and the CQC on the number of children deprived of
    liberty in their area at any one time, the legal basis for that
    deprivation of liberty, and where those children are living.
  • The NHS should ensure that data is published on the age, ethnicity
    and gender for all children detained at a given point in time in their
    annual report, and increase coverage of data returns to 100% of
    settings. The DfE should publish the ethnicity of children detained in
    Secure Children’s Homes, on welfare grounds.
  • Data which is routinely collected on admission to custody, mental
    health wards or Secure Children’s homes about the mental health,
    learning or social care needs of children in settings should be
    published annually, and NHS England should publish figures about the
    length of stay in hospital for children sectioned under the Mental
    Health Act.
  • The Department for Education, the Minister of Justice and Department
    for Health should set up a joint working group to looking at how data
    can be better collected, what lessons can be learnt on issues like
    restraint and segregation and which seeks a better understanding of the
    pathways of children into and out of the secure estate and between
    different sectors of secure accommodation. There is also not enough
    information about how these children are treated when in secure
    settings, for example how many times they are restrained or placed in
    segregation. Better information is needed in order to hold providers to
    account and reduce restrictive practices across all settings.


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