One in three homeless 16 and 17-year-olds who were working with youth offending teams had been placed in unsafe or unsuitable accommodation. That's according to independent inspectors who have published a new report, 'Accommodation of homeless 16- and 17-year-old children working with youth offending teams'.
The report reflects the findings of HM Inspectorate of Probation and Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales. In 2009, the House of Lords gave a landmark judgment clarifying the responsibilities of children’s social care services for providing accommodation and support to homeless 16- and 17-year-olds. The Southwark judgment led to local authorities and others reviewing their procedures and improved the prospects for those children. This inspection revealed a mixed picture. One in three 16- and 17-year-olds were housed in accommodation inspectors considered unsuitable or unsafe and inspectors were particularly concerned about the risks those sharing hostel or bed and breakfast accommodation with adult strangers were exposed to.
No local authority suggested to us that these shortcomings were because of a lack of funding. They appeared to come from poor or incomplete assessment, a lack of joined-up working or recognition of children’s wider needs, and a tendency to place children as though they were adults. Inspectors also found that the range of suitable accommodation provision was limited and this resulted in some children being placed in accommodation that did not meet their needs.
The children whose cases were reviewed by inspectors had all suffered some sort of trauma in their lives. Most had previously been known to children’s social care services and some were subject to care orders. They often exhibited difficult behaviour. They were not yet capable of independence and still needed some form of parenting or support.
Inspectors found that while a minority received excellent support, too many had been given a roof over their heads with little other than a few hours a week support from visiting professionals.
It is not known how many 16- and 17-year-olds find themselves alone and relying on their local authority for accommodation to avoid homelessness. The data and information collected locally and collated nationally is not sufficiently comprehensive or joined-up.
Inspectors made recommendations to Directors of Children’s Social Care Services in England and Directors of Social Services in Wales, including: ensuring that homeless 16- and 17-year-olds are not placed in accommodation alongside adults who may pose a risk of harm to them, that the vulnerability of homeless 16- and 17-year-olds is fully recognised by staff and services are tailored to their individual needs, and that children’s social care services routinely include youth offending team (YOT) case managers in joint assessment and planning where relevant.
HM Chief Inspector of Probation Dame Glenys Stacey said: “The majority of these children were in suitable accommodation but a sizeable proportion – one in three – was not. The wider support children received was sometimes excellent but in other cases, woefully inadequate. Support for these children needs to be more consistent, effective and in line with the expectations set by the courts, so that they can successfully become independent adults.”
The report is available at www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprobation