One third young homeless offenders placed inappropriately
A new thematic report from HM Inspectorate of Probation found that one in three homeless 16- and 17-year-olds who were working with youth offending teams had been placed in unsafe or unsuitable accommodation.
In 2009, the House of Lords gave a landmark judgment clarifying the responsibilities of children’s social care services for the provision of accommodation and support to homeless 16 and 17 year olds. With the impetus of the Southwark judgment, local authorities reviewed their procedures and (alongside others) produced new protocols, guidance and pathways. The prospects for homeless 16 and 17 year olds were improved as it paved the way for better access to accommodation and support services because of the judgment and the commitments that flowed from it.
Working with Ofsted and Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales, HMIP focused on the experience of children in accessing and maintaining accommodation as they were moving towards adulthood in six local authorities.
Six years on, this inspection revealed a mixed picture on the ground. Most distressingly, one in three 16 and 17 years olds were housed in accommodation considered unsuitable or unsafe. 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 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. The inspectors concluded:
There was little evidence of local or national oversight, effective monitoring of accommodation placements or adherence to the national guidance on suitability of accommodation.
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;
- Homeless 16 and 17 year olds leaving custody have suitable, safe and settled accommodation at the point of release and that they are aware of where they will be living well in advance of release;
- 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.
Disclosure: Russell Webster is a member of the HMIP Advisory Group.