Posted: 21 September 2015

The risks of unsuitable accommodation for older teenagers

Our new report On Your Own Now examines the experiences of 16 and 17 year olds who cannot live at home with their families. These teenagers live in accommodation provided by their local council to prepare them for living independently as an adult.

We found that this accommodation, which can include hostels, foyers and bed and breakfasts, are often very chaotic environments and the young people are at severe risk if they do not have enough support.

We spoke to accommodation providers, practitioners and young people to understand what their concerns were.

Legal highs, alcohol and violence

Accommodation providers told us that a number of risks posed serious threats to the 16 and 17 year olds in their care. They were very concerned about alcohol and substance misuse, a staggering 83% judged ‘legal highs’ to pose a very high risk to these vulnerable young people. Legal highs and alcohol can be used to groom vulnerable 16 and 17 year olds, either by older adults living with them or predatory ones targeting them outside their accommodation.

Violence is another risk that stood out. A young person we interviewed told us about a time where another girl in the accommodation threw a sofa over and slapped a member of staff in the face.

We estimate that each provider experiences an average of 13 violent incidents every year. It seems that providers are often likely to request the help of local police forces to help them cope with these incidents, risking the unnecessary criminalisation of children.

Not enough support

The rules state that 16 and 17 year olds who need to be accommodated by their local authority should become children in care. Yet this is not always happening.

Our report from earlier in the year on homeless 16 and 17 year olds, ‘Getting the house in order’, revealed that at least 1,800 young people were not getting the support they are entitled to from their local authority. Instead, they were provided a place to live but no support to help them overcome the issues they face.

Our new report suggests the situation could actually be worse. The majority of providers report that most 16 and 17 years olds accommodated by them are living off state benefits. This would not be the case if children’s services were supporting them.

These young people miss out on vital support. This support could stay with them into adulthood to help make sure they can overcome previous experiences of abuse and neglect and the disadvantages they may face because they could not live at home during those crucial years when they were 16 or 17. Without being taken into care 16 and 17 year olds lose this additional support.

We need to keep these young people safe

Our report demonstrates that current structures, like local safeguarding boards often do not properly integrate services for 16 and 17 year olds.

Of the providers we surveyed, 55% said they were not asked to contribute to the processes that determine how much support a young person receives, and 22% have no contact with their local safeguarding board, the body tasked with overseeing all local efforts to keep children safe.

Our call for change

All children under the age 18 need help to stay safe.

Central government, local authorities, accommodation providers and other organisations need to work harder to address the growing strain on the 16 and 17 year olds who can no longer live at home. We have made a number of recommendations to help make this happen.

  • The Department for Education should examine ways in which standards of safeguarding 16 and 17 year-olds in this accommodation can be raised. This would be best done through regulation that is inspected against by Ofsted.
  • The Secretaries of State for Education and Communities and Local Government should review the guidance on how local authorities help homeless 16 and 17 year olds.
  • Local authorities should review their commissioning strategies to ensure the highest standards of safeguarding and urgently identify ways in which existing accommodation providers can be integrated into existing structures to safeguard children.

You can support vulnerable 16 and 17 year olds

We think that being a vulnerable 16 or 17 year old can be Seriously Awkward. The law doesn’t always protect young people aged 16 or 17 and the way services are designed often leads to them slipping through the cracks and not getting any support to overcome their problems.

You can help us in our call for change by signing our Seriously Awkward petition below, which asks the Government to change the law to protect 16 and 17 year olds from neglect.

By Emmanuel Oloruntola - Policy team

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