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All children classed as homeless must be taken into care, children’s commissioner says

Date: Monday, 20th Nov 2023 | Category: General

Every child assessed as homeless by their local authority should be brought into care, the children’s commissioner for England has said after research revealed that almost 6,500 teenagers were homeless or at risk of homelessness in England last year.

Dame Rachel de Souza has called for greater monitoring of support for children classed as homeless. Picture: Office of the Children's Commissioner for England

New data from Dame Rachel de Souza’s office finds that that 6,469 16- and 17-year-olds presented as homeless to councils in 2022/23.

The research finds that 61 per cent of children who should have been taken into care did not get the care they were legally entitled to. They were either judged as “not to be homeless” or denied support for an unknown reason, according to the study.

“Some children described how when they were turned away from help, they were forced into precarious sofa-surfing arrangements with friends, as home was not safe. Many children had to seek help several times before they were given accommodation,” it states.

Of the 1,960 children who were given accommodation, just 760 were taken into care under Section 20 of the Children Act while the majority were accommodated under housing legislation.

Of the 760 young people taken into care by their local authority, just 14 per cent were placed in a children’s home or in foster care. The remaining 61 per cent were housed in semi-independent accommodation.

For the remaining 1,200 children not taken into care, the data shows that 30 per cent were placed in unsuitable independent living accommodation and seven per cent in semi-independent accommodation.

Local authorities did not specify the accommodation used for the remaining 62 per cent of children.

“I am appalled that such a large number of children are not getting their entitlement to suitable care. All children have the right and deserve to grow up in safe and stable environments that provide them with the care they need,” de Souza said.

She is calling for every child who a local authority assesses as in need of accommodation should be brought into care and accommodated under Section 20 as a default.

“If a child refuses, an independent reviewing officer must review the decision and only agree if they are satisfied that the child has been fully informed of their housing options and rights and has had access to independent advocacy,” the children’s commissioner states in a series of recommendations to local and central government.

Other recommendations include implementing regular reviews of placements for children who presented as homeless and a duty for Ofsted to ask for data on the number of children who are placed under housing legislation ahead of an inspection of local authority children’s services.

The government must also “amend the regulations on supported accommodation to ensure that all children, whatever their legal status, can only be placed in regulated provision”, according to de Souza, and develop a set of universal care standards, so that any child living away from home is able to receive care, and not just support.

Recent research from youth homelessness charity Centrepoint finds that a record number of 16- to 24-year-olds approached their local authority for support with homelessness last year.

Assistant Director for Children’s Social Care, Nisha Gupta commented on the statement on behalf of Staffordshire County Council

“Children must be supported to achieve their potential, and every Local Authority has a duty as the Corporate Parent to support children and young people who are at risk of homelessness. We are proud that we always support children and families by listening to them, and ensuring that their voice is kept paramount to shape their plans of support. Our Social Workers and Personal Assistant Key Workers ensure that children and young people remain safe, and supported to achieve independence within community.”