Children with complex needs can wait years for a stable home

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More than 9 out of 10 local authorities frequently struggle to find homes for children with complex needs, according to a new report from Ofsted.

  • Most local authorities struggle to find homes for children with complex needs, with children sometimes waiting years for a suitable placement.
  • Ofsted warns that many children with complex needs are living alone in homes, often with high numbers of staff, which risks leaving them isolated and vulnerable to mistreatment.
  • Report highlights common practice of local authorities and homes working together that resulted in good experiences for children.

The report, based on case studies and a national survey of local authorities and children’s home providers, found that children often wait months – or in the worst cases, years – for a stable home, and some local authorities are resorting to placements they do not want to use, such as unregistered placements. Increasingly, children who are seen as a risk to themselves or others are deprived of their liberty. The report calls for greater strategic oversight over the children’s residential sector to make sure homes open in the right locations and meet children’s needs.

Large numbers of children with complex needs live in homes alone, often with high numbers of staff. Although this may be right for some children, the report warns it should not be the default when planning children’s care as it risks leaving them isolated and vulnerable to mistreatment.

Sir Martyn Oliver, His Majesty’s Chief Inspector of education, children’s services and skills:

All children deserve to feel secure and well-cared for. This is not always the case for children in care, particularly those with multiple needs. As this report shows, local authorities are increasingly struggling to find homes that are able to meet these children’s individual needs. There are sector-wide challenges with recruiting and retaining skilled staff and a national shortage of secure and therapeutic homes, so I am concerned about the impact this has on children’s stability.

Yvette Stanley, Ofsted’s National Director for Social Care:

I am pleased that this report sets out some examples of good practice that have contributed to children feeling better supported in their homes. However, the number of children’s homes continues to grow, but not in the right places or all offering what children need.

I hope this report encourages local authorities and children’s homes to work together in planning what is needed and where, in the best interests of children.

Terminology and good practice

The report also questions the broad use of the term ‘complex needs’ in placement decisions, as it can unintentionally group children together whose needs are very different. It recommends a shift away from the umbrella term to describing children’s specific needs and what support they need, and from whom. This should contribute to the clear communication and information-sharing between children’s homes, local authorities and other agencies that is vital for children.

According to the case studies, there were some common elements of practice of local authorities and homes working together and with other agencies that resulted in good experiences for children. These were:

  • moves that were well-planned and at a suitable pace for the individual child
  • consistency provided through relationships
  • access to the right education service
  • facilitating a sense of belonging for children, where they know that staff would not give up on them and that this is their long-term home
  • capturing and implementing children’s views on their care


The report’s findings follow a national survey conducted by the inspectorate of local authorities and children’s home providers across England about the extent of the difficulties local authorities have when finding homes for children with these needs, the reasons behind them, and the barriers homes face in accepting children. Ofsted also carried out 10 case studies to identify good practice among local authorities and children’s homes, as well as the barriers they face and how practice could improve.

This report follows an Ofsted report published in 2022 ‘How local authorities plan for sufficiency of accommodation that meets the needs of children in care and care leavers’.