Warning over number of teens in care kept in unregulated B&Bs and hotels
Teenagers in state care here could be at risk because of placements in unregulated accommodation, it has been warned.
More than 70 young people aged 16 and 17 were placed in unregulated bed and breakfasts, hotels, hostels and other supported accommodation in the 12 months to last April.
Increased pressures on health and social care trusts and a rise in youths presenting as homeless were cited as the main factors.
The figures were obtained by investigative website The Detail.
The Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) said it was a "problematic situation" that is "verging on crisis".
Responsibility for placing children in accommodation is with health and social care trusts and the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB).
They admitted the increasing reliance on unregulated accommodation had left them in a "compromised position".
At present RQIA does not have powers to prosecute any accommodation providers that aren't registered with the watchdog.
Figures given to RQIA by the HSCB show 76 youths were placed in 135 unregulated placements here between April 1, 2017 and March 31, 2018.
The most prominent areas were the Western, Northern and Belfast Trusts, which have the highest number of youths in care.
The amount of children placed in B&Bs tripled from 13 in 2014/15 to 39 in 2017/18, mostly in the Northern and Western Trust areas.
Hotel placements have also risen from five in 2014/15 to 19 in 2017/18, also in the Northern and Western Trusts.
The RQIA said it had advised the Department of Health to review current legislation as it had not kept pace with the changing needs and challenges faced by trusts.
The Department of Health said: "Consideration is being given to whether supported accommodation and supported lodgings should be subject to full regulation, including registration and inspection by RQIA."
The HSCB said the use of B&Bs and hotels is deemed as "unacceptable" accommodation for vulnerable young people.
It added that both were used by some trusts where other more suitable options had failed and there were no alternatives.
"The use of such accommodation is predicated on the understanding that this is in circumstances where other options have been exhausted and is for the shortest possible time pending the provision of a more suitable arrangement," it said.
It added that trusts had to be satisfied the accommodation meets specific needs and that a robust support plan is in place.
The Department of Health said the use of B&Bs for children in state care was subject to a judicial review last year.
It said finding accommodation could be challenging for some children who struggled with a placement in a family or group living situation.
It added that the recent court judgment acknowledged this by refusing an outright ban, but said the use of such accommodation should be "rare, restricted and heavily monitored".
The department said it is considering the regulation of supported accommodation providers.
But it added this would require new legislation and a functioning Executive.