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Care homes for children operating without registration (OWR)

Our review looked at care home services for children potentially operating without registration from 1 April 2022 to 31 March 2023.

As the regulator of social care in Wales, one of our core functions is to ensure only those people who are judged to be fit and are likely to provide good quality care are registered to do so. The registration process acts as a gatekeeper for those wishing to provide a regulated service and is the first step in how we safeguard people who use services and ensure they receive good quality care. 

As we identified in our national report in 2019, there is a lack of suitable placements able to meet the needs of a small, but growing, number of children. We know local authorities, often supported by Children’s Commissioning Consortium Cymru (4Cs), contact numerous registered providers to source suitable care and support for children. On occasion, providers are reporting high demand (from local authorities in Wales and England) for limited places. At any given time, there may be vacancies in some care homes for children but often these providers are not able to meet the individual needs of the child or young person. 

This lack of suitable provision for children whose needs are more complex has led to some local authorities arranging to meet the immediate needs of these children, sometimes at very short notice. These arrangements often amount to care homes for children operating without registration (OWR), also known as unregistered services. 

In publishing this report we aim to shine a spotlight on a very complex set of problems with the hope of galvanising collective problem-solving and action by all involved in safeguarding children who are looked after. As always, complex problems can be rarely solved by a single agency and require collaborative effort.

Key findings

  • In Wales, unlike England, the majority of services operating without registration are being directly provided by local authorities themselves, not by independent sector providers. 
  • We found some children achieve positive outcomes in a temporary services which are operating without registration, but this is not the case for all children due to several moves from one service operating without registration to another. 
  • On occasion, we found the standard of the arrangements made for children and/or the premises used for unregistered services falls below those required for registration.
  • In many cases, staffing arrangements to provide care and support have been ad hoc, subject to frequent change and may deploy staff not trained to meet the care and support needs of the child or young person. The over reliance of agency staff is of particular concern. 
  • Meeting the needs of children who are looked after is a corporate parenting and multi-agency responsibility. We have found not all partners are as engaged in meeting children’s needs as they should be. 


Read the full report and all the key findings below.