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Posted: 20 March 2015

12,000 16- and 17-year-olds have no place to call home

Every year 12,000 teenagers aged 16 and 17 ask their local council for help as they face the stark reality of homelessness. The evidence we gathered for our new report, Getting the house in order: Keeping older teenagers safe, highlights how only 1 in 12 of them get the correct response as laid out in the Government’s guidance on the issue. All the others are failed as they receive a response that falls short. 

They are failed in three ways:

  1. Half of these vulnerable young people are never properly assessed in the first place
  2. Over 8,000 are sent home to their parents without any support being put in place to make sure they are not abused or neglected in their family homes
  3. Finally, of the small minority of 2,800 who receive accommodation, 1,800 are accommodated without the proper financial and personal support that they are entitled to under law.

The reasons behind their homelessness, as shown below, are complex and present in multiple combinations

an overview of the reasons children become homeless

Homeless teenagers are extremely vulnerable

We know from our frontline work with 16- and 17-year_olds facing homelessness just how vulnerable they are. It is extremely concerning to see so many of them turned away without the support they need. For so many, placed in accommodation without support, or sent home to families where they may experience neglect and abuse they run the very serious risk of being sexually exploited or becoming involved in drugs or other criminal activity.

What’s worse is that so many of these children have already been failed by local services with at least half having been previously known to children’s services.

These teenagers have very complex lives which often further exacerbate their homelessness. With a history of involvement in services and specific sets vulnerabilities it is not enough to just send them home. Even if home is a safe place most of these teenagers will need extra support and resources to overcome a history of neglect.

When asking for help, they find negative attitudes and disbelief

When we consulted with teenagers at risk of homelessness they told us about the prejudices they face when they try to get help.

One teenager said: 'Everyone thinks you did something wrong, that it’s your fault. You’re obviously the bad child that got kicked out. Rather than it being a two way street.'

And about how services rarely believed them when they told them it was impossible for them to live at home anymore, another teenager said: 'They didn’t listen. Perhaps they should just listen to you in the first place, instead of dragging you through hell only to end up agreeing with you.'

You can also read Bianca's story. Bianca (not her real name) had recently been threatened with homelessness and came to us for help.

What needs to change?

Local councils need to work harder to protect these vulnerable 16- and 17-year-olds. There are a number of changes that could be made to improve the support offered.

We are calling for all 16- and 17-year-olds who present as homeless to get a full assessment from children’s services so that, even if they do no need somewhere to live, all their needs are met and they can be properly supported into adulthood.

To make sure no teenager gets left behind we believe there is a need to strengthen the legal status of these 16- and 17-year-olds to make them akin to their contemporaries leaving the care system who get many extra entitlements and additional support.

The accommodation used to house these vulnerable teenagers needs to improve. Staff need to be better trained, accommodation needs to be subject to strict rules to keep young people safe and there need to be inspections to make sure standards improve quickly.

If you are interested in learning more about what it is like to be a homeless teenager, or to be a mediation worker trying to help them resolve their problems, read our report.

By Richard Crellin - Policy team
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Bianca's experience of becoming homeless

Posted: 20 March 2015