Councils in the North East are failing to protect dozens of vulnerable teenagers at risk of homelessness, according to new research by The Children’s Society.
Getting the House in Order, a new report launched today shows that across the region an estimated 300 teenagers aged 16 and 17 ask their local authority for emergency help with housing each year, but almost half (140) are turned away and left to fend for themselves without even having their needs assessed.
The research based on Freedom of Information requests – sent to 353 local councils across England and compiled from 259 responses – also reveals that homeless 16 and 17-year-olds are rarely given the same support as children in care, such as access to an advocate or financial support.
Homeless teenagers are left with few options. They may be sent back to homes where there is violence or left rootless with no permanent home, facing threats of sexual abuse or being driven into crime.
The report shows that even when homeless 16 and 17-year-olds are housed they face huge risks. Councils across England place hundreds of teenagers of this age group in bed and breakfasts each year, going against Government guidance which regards this type of accommodation as unsuitable. It has been well documented that B&Bs and hostels used to accommodate homeless people are targeted by sexual predators and drug dealers. Even where teenagers are housed in supported accommodation, the reality is that it may not be suitable as it is not inspected and is unregulated.
The Children’s Society is calling for councils to join up their services and make sure that all teenagers who seek help for homelessness are assessed and given adequate support. B&B accommodation should be banned completely and hostels and supported accommodation should be regulated. The charity is also lobbying the Government to make sure councils identify vulnerable 16 and 17-year-olds seeking help for homelessness, and provide them with flexible support and the same protection as care leavers.
Matthew Reed, chief executive of The Children’s Society, which helps vulnerable young people at risk of child abuse and exploitation, said: “It is a disgrace that hundreds of vulnerable teenagers, who may have escaped physical or sexual abuse at home, have gone to their council to get help in finding a safe home, only to be turned away.
“These teenagers are being hung out to dry. Few have the money or resources to find new accommodation and their options are limited. At best they might rely on the goodwill of friends or family, at worst they may be forced to return to an unsafe home or to live on the streets. They are facing huge dangers from predators who seek to abuse or exploit them. Councils need to do much more to protect these vulnerable teenagers. Every teenager deserves a safe place to live.”
In April 2013, we reported that Alnwick-based Gallery Youth had taken on two flats to provide much-needed shelter for homeless youngsters in north Northumberland, after a surge in the number sleeping rough the previous year.