Secure Accommodation Order

Secure Accommodation Order
Secure Accommodation Order
Full Overview Of Secure Accommodation Order

A Secure Accommodation Order (SAO) is an important legal instrument in the United Kingdom, particularly used in child welfare and protection. This order allows the placement of a child or young person in secure accommodation when they pose a risk to themselves or others, or if there is a risk of them running away and being exposed to significant harm. This comprehensive overview aims to provide a detailed understanding of Secure Accommodation Orders, covering their legal framework, the process of obtaining and enforcing them, their benefits, and relevant considerations for all parties involved.

What Is A Secure Accommodation Order?

A Secure Accommodation Order authorises a local authority to detain a child in a secure accommodation unit. These units are specialised residential facilities designed to provide a high level of supervision and care and prevent the child from leaving without permission. The order is typically sought in situations where a child’s behaviour poses a significant risk to their own safety or that of others.

Secure Accommodation Orders are primarily governed by Section 25 of the Children Act 1989. This legislation empowers local authorities to place a child in secure accommodation, provided certain criteria are met. The primary objective is to ensure the safety and welfare of the child and to protect the community.

Situations Requiring a Secure Accommodation Order

Secure Accommodation Orders are typically sought in urgent situations where a child’s welfare is at immediate risk. Common scenarios include:

  • Risk of Significant Harm: The child is at risk of significant harm if they are not placed in a secure environment.
  • Absconding: The child has a history of running away or is likely to run away, thereby placing themselves at risk.
  • Serious Offending Behaviour: The child exhibits behaviour that poses a risk to others, such as serious offending or violent behaviour.
  • Substance Misuse: The child’s substance misuse places them at significant risk of harm.

The Process of Obtaining a Secure Accommodation Order

Obtaining a Secure Accommodation Order involves several stages, each requiring careful assessment, legal procedures, and coordination with various professionals.

Initial Assessment

The process begins with an initial assessment by the local authority. This involves gathering evidence to demonstrate that the child meets the criteria for secure accommodation. The assessment should include:

  • Documentation of the child’s behaviour and any incidents of absconding or offending.
  • Evidence of the risk of significant harm if the child is not placed in secure accommodation.
  • Information on the child’s background, including any previous interventions or placements.

Decision to Apply for a SAO

Once the assessment is complete, the local authority must decide whether to apply for a Secure Accommodation Order. This decision is based on the evidence gathered and a determination that secure accommodation is necessary to protect the child’s welfare. The local authority should consider any alternative options before making this decision.

Court Application

If the decision is made to apply for a SAO, the local authority must submit an application to the Family Court. The application must include detailed evidence supporting the need for secure accommodation. The court will then schedule a hearing to review the application.

Court Hearing

During the court hearing, the local authority must present evidence to support the need for a Secure Accommodation Order. The child, their parents or guardians, and their legal representatives have the right to attend the hearing and present their views. The court will consider the evidence and determine whether the criteria for secure accommodation are met.

Criteria for Issuing a Secure Accommodation Order

The court considers several key criteria when deciding whether to issue a Secure Accommodation Order:

Significant Risk of Harm

The child must be at significant risk of harm if they are not placed in secure accommodation. This can include physical, emotional, or psychological harm.

Likelihood of Absconding

There must be evidence that the child has a history of running away or is likely to abscond, thereby placing themselves at risk.

Risk to Others

The child’s behaviour must pose a significant risk to others, warranting the need for a secure environment.

Duration and Review of a Secure Accommodation Order

An initial Secure Accommodation Order can be made for up to three months. The court can extend the order for additional periods of up to six months, as long as the criteria for secure accommodation are still being met. Regular reviews must be carried out to ensure that the placement is still necessary and suitable for the child’s welfare.

Implications of a Secure Accommodation Order

A Secure Accommodation Order has significant implications for the child, family, and local authorities.

For the Child

A SAO provides immediate protection and ensures the child’s safety. However, being placed in secure accommodation can be a distressing experience, and appropriate emotional support and care are essential to helping the child adjust.

For the Family

A SAO can be challenging and emotional for the family. Parents or guardians may feel a sense of loss and helplessness. It is important to provide them with clear information and support to help them understand the process and the reasons for the placement.

For the Local Authority

For the local authority, an SAO necessitates careful planning and coordination. Social workers must work closely with the secure accommodation unit, the child, and their family to ensure the placement meets the child’s needs and to develop a plan for their future care.

Benefits of Secure Accommodation Orders

Secure Accommodation Orders offer several benefits, including providing a structured and legally binding framework for protecting vulnerable children.

Immediate Protection

SAOs provide immediate protection for children at significant risk of harm, ensuring their safety in a secure environment.

Supervision and Care

Secure accommodation units offer high supervision and care, addressing the child’s needs and helping manage their behaviour.


The structured environment of secure accommodation can help stabilise the child’s behaviour and provide a foundation for further interventions and support.

Considerations and Challenges

While Secure Accommodation Orders provide essential protection, they also present several considerations and challenges that must be addressed.

Emotional Impact

The process of being placed in secure accommodation can be emotionally challenging for the child. Ensuring the child receives appropriate emotional support, and counselling is crucial to helping them cope with the experience.

Legal and Procedural Compliance

Strict compliance with legal and procedural requirements is essential to ensuring the effectiveness of an SAO. Local authorities and secure accommodation units must work closely together to navigate the process’s complexities and protect the child’s rights.

Coordination and Communication

Effective coordination and communication between the local authority, secure accommodation unit, and other relevant agencies are critical to the success of an SAO. Timely information sharing and collaborative decision-making help ensure the child’s needs are met promptly and appropriately.

Alternatives to Secure Accommodation Orders

While Secure Accommodation Orders are essential for addressing urgent situations, alternative legal mechanisms may be more appropriate in certain cases.

Care Orders

A care order places the child under the local authority’s care, allowing them to make decisions about the child’s welfare and placement. Care orders provide a broader range of placement options, including foster and residential care, and are used when secure accommodation is unnecessary.

Supervision Orders

A supervision order allows the local authority to supervise the child’s welfare while at home or at a specified placement. This order is used when the child requires support and monitoring but does not meet the criteria for secure accommodation.

Navigating the complexities of Secure Accommodation Orders and alternative arrangements necessitates expert legal and professional guidance. Engaging the services of solicitors, social workers, and counsellors is crucial to ensure a fair and legally sound process.

Legal Advice

Solicitors play a vital role in guiding clients through the legal aspects of Secure Accommodation Orders. They assist in preparing applications, representing clients in court, and ensuring compliance with legal requirements.

Social Work Support

Social workers are essential in assessing the child’s needs, supporting the family, and making arrangements for the child’s care. Their expertise ensures that the child’s welfare is prioritised throughout the process.

Counselling and Emotional Support

Counsellors and therapists provide valuable support to children and families affected by Secure Accommodation Orders, helping them cope with the emotional challenges and trauma associated with the process.

Case Studies and Practical Examples

To depict the practical application of Secure Accommodation Orders, consider the following case studies:

Case Study 1: Alex’s Story

Alex, a 15-year-old boy, had a history of running away from home and engaging in risky behaviour. Despite multiple interventions, his behaviour continued to place him at significant risk. The local authority applied for a Secure Accommodation Order, and Alex was placed in a secure accommodation unit. The structured environment and intensive support helped stabilise Alex’s behaviour, providing a foundation for further therapeutic interventions.

Case Study 2: Mia’s Experience

Mia, a 14-year-old girl, was involved in a gang and exhibited violent behaviour that posed a risk to others. After several incidents, the local authority sought a Secure Accommodation Order to protect Mia and those around her. The secure accommodation unit provided a safe and supportive environment where Mia received counselling and education, helping her disengage from the gang and develop positive behaviours.


Secure Accommodation Orders are a crucial mechanism in the child protection system, ensuring the immediate safety and welfare of children at significant risk of harm. Understanding the legal framework, process, and implications of Secure Accommodation Orders is essential for making informed decisions and achieving the best outcomes for children.

Addressing Secure Accommodation Orders’ challenges and emotional impact requires comprehensive support and resources for children, families, and professionals. Legal and professional guidance is crucial to navigate the complexities of the process and ensure compliance with legal requirements.

At DLS Solicitors, we are committed to providing expert legal support and guidance to clients navigating the complexities of secure accommodation orders. Our experienced team is here to assist with understanding the implications of Secure Accommodation Orders, representing clients in court, and ensuring the child’s welfare remains the paramount concern. Whether you seek to understand your rights, support a child at risk, or navigate the legal process, we are here to help you achieve the best possible outcome.

Secure Accommodation Order FAQ'S

A Secure Accommodation Order is a court order that allows a local authority to place a child or young person in a secure children’s home for their safety and welfare. This is typically used when the child is at risk of harm to themselves or others.

Local authorities can apply for a Secure Accommodation Order when they believe that a child or young person needs to be placed in secure accommodation for their protection or the protection of others.

The court must be satisfied that the child has a history of absconding and is likely to abscond from any other type of accommodation and that if they abscond, they are likely to suffer significant harm. Alternatively, the court must be convinced that the child is likely to injure themselves or others if not placed in secure accommodation.

A secure accommodation order can initially last for up to three months. If the criteria for secure accommodation continue to be met, the court can extend it for additional periods of up to six months at a time.

A child has the right to legal representation, the right to be heard in court, and the right to appeal the order. They should also have access to education, healthcare, and support services while in secure accommodation.

Yes, parents or guardians can challenge a Secure Accommodation Order by presenting evidence and arguments in court. They can also apply to the court to discharge the order if they believe it is no longer necessary.

The court is responsible for ensuring that the criteria for secure accommodation are met and that the order is in the child’s best interests. The court reviews the order regularly and can extend, vary, or discharge it based on the child’s circumstances.


If the criteria for a Secure Accommodation Order are no longer met, the local authority must apply to the court to discharge the order. The child must then be moved to an alternative, less restrictive accommodation.

Secure accommodation is a highly restrictive type of placement used only when necessary to protect the child or others. Unlike other types of placements, secure accommodation restricts the child’s liberty and movement to ensure their safety.

Children in secure accommodation receive support tailored to their needs, including educational services, mental health care, counseling, and other therapeutic interventions. The goal is to address the issues leading to the need for secure accommodation and to prepare the child for a safe transition to less restrictive living arrangements.


This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 11th July 2024.

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