By Lisa Hadwin
The United Kingdom is failing to aid many of the estimated 12,000 teenagers who are homeless without support, according to a report published by The Children’s Society in March.
“Getting The House in Order” says that about two-thirds of the 16- and 17-year-old homeless teens are floundering in a system that is complex, inconsistent and failing in its statutory responsibilities toward them as children. This puts them at risk of exploitation, abuse and criminal activity, and is likely to sow the seeds for a troubled adulthood.
Richard Crellin is a policy officer at The Children’s Society, and specializes in late adolescence. He believes the vulnerability of young people is often overlooked.
“Schools, social workers and the media often think older teenagers ‘should know’ better, ” said Crellin, who co-authored the report. “It is not a realistic possibility to get the best outcome on their own.”
Under the Children Act 1989 and clarified in additional government guidance in 2010, local authorities have statutory safeguarding duties and responsibilities for 16- and 17-year olds facing homelessness. This is to provide help and support above basic housing needs covered by the Housing Act 1996.
The report’s findings are based on 259 local authorities responding to a Freedom of Information request and 74 case studies.
The report paints a bleak picture. Half of the youth who go to local authorities never get properly assessed; 8,000 get sent home without support; and the few housed are often put in unsafe, unsuitable accommodations.
The Children’s Society is now calling on the British government to introduce a range of measures to better protect 16- and 17-year olds facing homelessness.
“They tend to be viewed in an adult context,” Crellin said. “But for young people, it’s different, and that’s why we’d argue it’s primarily about safeguarding.”
Crellin gives the example of those who miss out on additional support, including ‘care leavers’ support packages for those who are 18 and older, because they reject being a ‘looked after’ child.
Local authorities are giving up too easily on older teens who reject being “looked after.”
“Lots [of homeless] are highly skeptical,” he explains. “They are granted more agency and choice… But just because they may have rejected protection measures, it does not absolve local authorities of responsibility. That is why we think this is a public policy issue that requires a new legal status of ‘vulnerable 16 and 17-year olds’.”
Such a status would ensure that every young person has the same level of support and protection, whatever their circumstances.
The Children’s Society believes every teenager also has the right to a dedicated and independent advocacy service.
It’s about “having someone to articulate the voice of the child, who understands the law and the rules, but can build a relationship with him or her and find out their views,” Crellin said.
Lisa Hadwin wrote this story for the Journalism for Social Change massive online open course.