The actress Samantha Morton has accused the government of being “neglectful” towards 16 and 17-year-olds in care.
The law changed last September so under-16s must be in regulated settings like children’s homes or foster care.
That does not apply to older teens, who can be in supported or semi-independent accommodation such as a hostel.
Ms Morton – who lived in care and was homeless at 16 – expressed anger that, nearly 30 years later, many still find themselves without sufficient support.
In 2020, over 6,000 teenagers were living in supported accommodation – the vast majority aged 16 and 17.
Figures obtained by the charity Article 39 show that 22 children aged 16 and 17 died while living in supported accommodation between 2018 and 2020.
This week, the charity took the government to the High Court, arguing that the policy was discriminatory and ministers had not properly consulted young people who had been placed in supported accommodation. Judgment is expected in the next few weeks.
The Department for Education said councils had a “duty to ensure children in their care have safe, stable accommodation until they reach adulthood”.
It added that “supported accommodation can be right for some young people” and it was bringing in checks on the quality of such provision.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme about the support provided to such young people, Ms Morton said: “If 22 children have died… it clearly isn’t working.”
She cited the case of Caitlin Sharp, a 17-year-old girl with epilepsy who died in 2019 after being placed in supported accommodation against professional advice.
After her death it was discovered she had not taken her medication for five months.
Ms Morton said the situation was “just heart breaking” and she was “lost for words… that [the government] think this is OK”.
She said it “feels criminal” that a 15-year-old could be living in a very supportive environment, but when they turn 16 “they’d be moved to rented, shared accommodation alongside someone who’d been released from prison with a tag”.
Article 39’s director Carolyne Willow said there was extensive research showing children in this type of housing were vulnerable to criminal or sexual exploitation.
She explained that many such young people “feel lonely and isolated and abandoned” when placed in properties on their own.
Ms Willow said: “We are the sixth richest country in the world. Our care system for very vulnerable children should be modelled on the best of family life, not designed around institutional neglect.”
Ms Morton also said she worried providers were not “accountable” any more, as so much of children’s social care was now operated by private companies.
Places in supported accommodation are usually far cheaper for councils than children’s homes, often costing several hundred pounds per week.
The current cost of a place in a home regulated by Ofsted is about £4,500 per week. If the child is vulnerable, that can rise to £10,000 or more.
The government has commissioned an independent review of children’s social care which is expected to report later this year.
There has been an outcry in the last few months over the deaths of Star Hobson and Arthur Labinjo-Hughes. Both were murdered at home – but were known to social services, who failed to protect them.
Ms Morton pointed out that the deaths of teenagers actually in the care of the state had received far less attention.
She said: “If we had an image on the front page of a newspaper of 22 very cute, very small children that had died in the care of the local authority… there would be absolute uproar about this.
“But because they’re a different age bracket – there isn’t.”