Posted: 21 September 2015

We need to listen to 16 and 17 year olds in care

Vaishali, an advocate in our Havering Advocacy Service, explains how her work with many 16 and 17 year olds having housing problems relates to our new report, 'On your own now' .

Many of the 16 and 17 year olds I work with have serious housing issues.

The problem is if you’re homeless at this age you are left in a difficult position. You’re no longer a child who can live in a foster home or an adult able to apply to the local authority for housing. Often, 16 and 17 year olds are placed in unsuitable temporary accommodation.

'The best thing about the advocacy service is that you get listened to'

Young people placed in this temporary accommodation have expressed feeling unsafe and unsupported by professionals. They are often placed in locations where they feel threatened or there might not be an adult to supervise and the young people don’t know who to turn to for support.

The risks of getting involved with the wrong crowd or not having enough boundaries have also been highlighted as concerns, and 16 and 17 year olds are left at a greater risk of exploitation.

If a young person feels insecure in their accommodation and not listened to by those making decisions, they may abscond or stay out overnight. In these cases local authority professionals have been known to refer to young people as making themselves ‘intentionally homeless’, forfeiting any future support. Again 16 and 17 year olds are in an awkward position, they are expected to act as an adult and yet treated as a child.

How can advocacy help?

Advocacy helps by championing the rights and needs of the young people, empowering them to speak up from themselves. We ensure that the young person’s wishes and feelings are heard. A young person in care said, ‘the best thing about the advocacy service is that you get listened to’.

At our advocacy service, we offer a safe and child-led space for the young person to discuss their issue in confidence and choose how they would like the advocate to support them. If the young person would like, an advocate can attend important meetings with the local authority, where life changing decisions are made.

Our new report ‘On your own now’ recommends that local authorities allow young people to meaningfully participate in decisions over where they live and the commissioning of all accommodation more generally.

If young people are listened to and accommodation is designed to meet their needs then many other problems can be avoided.

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 Vaishali Raithatha - Programme staff
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