Friday, 06 March 2015

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


Readers' comments (10)

  • The cretinous IDS will no doubt come up with a solution, Hostels, that provide accommodation, and work experience/education for the under 25's who are homeless and or jobless. He will reinvent The Workhouse!

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  • Of course, that is where things are going, back to the good old days.

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  • Outside Housing

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

    I don't agree.

    While technically homeless, the young person may have access to extended family or close family friends, who, with some help from the local authority, may be able to offer an appropriate "home" to the young person, even in the shorter term.

    This may be the "home" they'll probably not get by going into care.

    These steps are better facilitated by Social Services rather than Housing Departments so the crux of this story remains accurate.

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  • Perhaps the question should be why are councils doing this? it may be because social care are not accepting their responsibilities therefore the council or housing department are left with no choice, in my experience trying to refer through to social care for temporary accommodation for a young person to only be told we dont have any or that the young persons sole need is for housing only and does not want to be accommodated by the act, or a young person coming into the office as they have gone to social care only to be sent back.

    either way its just a thought that I think should be considered

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  • Outside Housing

    Your experience is shared by that of officers in 3 London boroughs I know of.

    It's that joined up thinking that Baroness Hale of Richmond wanted to happen but local authorities generally haven't embraced yet.

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  • A 16 or 17 year old is still a child. It is that parents responsibility not the states.

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  • Outside Housing

    Concerned Landlord

    Of course you are morally right.

    Unfortunatley when you reserch exactly what parental responsibility is in this country, and how it evolves in the context of homelessness and social care, it isn't that clear cut.

    Some parents will use their parental responsibility to make what they feel is an appropriate decision for their under 18 year old, which may be that they send him or her to the local authority having excluded them from thr family home. That is why this issue (as in the article here) is so important.

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  • oilyboots

    In my experience across the UK the House of Lords decision in R (G)-v-Southwark LBC: House of Lords 20/5/2009 is being blatantly ignored for whatever reason? Read the transcript and wonder why nothing is happening. Read many Local Government Ombudsman decisions covering the same topic.

    Dis-respect for this precedent, failure by Children's services and the harm being done to many vulnerable young people means what exactly?

    In the light of this week's debacle of the failure and cover up at the CQC, maybe it's time for the Government do actually do something!

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  • Generally, in my experience, my LA Housing Officers do make a referral to Social Care. However, Social Care appear very reluctant to even assess 16 and 17 year olds who present at homeless, let alone provide accommodation. The young person is passed between the housing office and social services all day/week - normally not knowing where they are going to sleep that night until 5pm, when someone, usually voluntary sector, steps up to provide an emergency bed.

    When social care complete an assessment, their usual response is that the young person is not a 'Child In Need' and therefore not their responsibility. They argue that if someone (voluntary sector - normally a large 20-30 bed hostel with a varied client group, not the most appropriate housing option for a teenager) housed the young person, they'd no longer need accommodation and would not have additional needs to constitute social care involvement.

    In addition to this, SP funding cuts have left voluntary sector services with an even more limited capacity to get involved and support and advocate for these young people.

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  • 'Concerned Landlord' I'm not sure if yuo have grasped the point of this? Of course parents provide for their 16 and 17 year olds and that is what is supposed to happen. This is about the small minority (5539 in 2012/13) where this did not happen. This could be due to many reasons including death of a parent, serious health problems, or even poor parenting. However even if the cause is some kind of abdication of duty by the parent, then as a society we have a duty to intervene and look out for the young person. Failure to do so will cost us more in the long term and help breed a further generation who lack basic life skills.

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