Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Survey reveals 16 and 17-year-olds are being sent to the wrong department

Homeless teenagers failed by councils

Councils are failing to fulfil their legal duties to homeless 16 and 17-year-olds five years after a landmark High Court ruling made their responsibilities clear.

An exclusive investigation carried out by Inside Housing through freedom of information requests shows local authorities are passing the majority of teenagers to housing departments rather than social services as they are supposed to. They are also housing hundreds of them in bed and breakfast accommodation, despite statutory guidance saying this should not be used - even in emergencies.

In the first seven months of 2012/13, 59 per cent (3,418) of a total of 5,789 of the teenagers who approached 112 councils were sent straight to housing departments.

Of the 5,539 16 and 17-year-olds who approached 111 councils (not all councils supplied data for all questions) in the same time period, just 44 per cent (2,440) were referred to social services at any stage.

This failure is contrary to two High Court rulings handed down by Baroness Hale of Richmond.

In the first, in February 2008, Baroness Hale told social services not to ‘avoid their responsibilities’ by handing over this ‘challenging group’ to housing departments. She reiterated her directive in May 2009 to Southwark Council demanding social services did not ‘pass the buck’.

Holly Padfield-Paine, young people’s programme manager at the Law Centres Network - which represents 52 law centres across England, Wales and Northern Ireland - said homeless 16 and 17-year-olds were approaching centres for legal advice because they had not been dealt with properly by councils.

‘What we want is local authorities to be applying the law correctly the first time,’ she said.

Councils are also flouting statutory guidance issued in April 2010, which stated all homeless young people should be referred to social services for an assessment.

In the first seven months of 2012/13, just 30 per cent (1,417) of the 4,670 homeless teenagers who approached 69 councils were given what is called an ‘initial assessment’ .

Rick Henderson, chief executive of charity Homeless Link, urged councils to act. ‘The effects of homelessness upon 16 and 17-year-olds can have a hugely negative impact on the path their life takes, yet too many local authorities are failing young people when they are most in need,’ he said. The charity is publishing a report analysing the findings today.

The Local Government Association declined to comment.

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said: ‘Any lone, homeless child in need aged 16 and 17 should be taken into care.’

In numbers

number of 16 and 17-year-olds who approached 111 councils in the first seven months of 2012/13

44 per cent
of these 16 and 17-year-olds were referred to social services

30 per cent
of homeless teenagers who approached 69 councils in same period were given an inital assessment

What the sector thinks

‘Failing to involve children’s services means councils may not correctly assess the risk of a teenager returning home and increases the chance of children being left… at
risk of harm.’
Lisa Nandy, shadow children’s minister

‘16 and 17-year-olds are legally children and subject to special protection. Proper social care assessments should be carried out on all homeless children who are not supported by parents or carers.’
Spokesperson, Office of the Children’s Commissioner

‘[It is important that] homelessness and any wider support needs are properly assessed and addressed early on to avoid setting up a lifetime of damaging consequences.’
Duncan Shrubsole, director of policy and external affairs, Crisis


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