ACCOMMODATION FOR CARE-LEAVERS
188. A dearth of suitable accommodation for care
leavers is an area of huge concern to many of the organisations
that have given evidence to the inquiry.
Research shows that the situation worries many young people too.
Thirty per cent of care leavers interviewed by A National Voice
for their publication No Place Like Home did not feel safe
where they were living. Twelve per cent were living in bed and
breakfast or hostel accommodation, and more than half felt they
had had no real choice in the accommodation offered to them.
Maxine Wrigley reported that one in ten care leavers end up "sofa
surfing" at friends' houses, often because while they had
a flat of their own, "it was in such a dodgy area that they
did not feel safe or want to go round there".
Care leavers are all too often allocated accommodation in very
disadvantaged areas, where their inherent vulnerability is compounded
by proximity to problems such as substance abuse, exploitation
189. A National Voice surveyed leaving care workers
and personal advisers, and found that about half of them felt
that it was not possible for their authorities to provide safe,
damp free, decorated accommodation in a location that was without
risk from anti-social neighbours.
Local authorities told us that a lack of affordable accommodation
in many areas was principally to blame for the problems experienced
by care leavers.
Rainer attributed the problem partly to poor planning and lack
of co-operation between children's and housing services: "Often
it is simply a failure to plan for something that it is known
that almost all young people will need."
Martin Hazlehurst told us that some authorities put a great deal
of effort into commissioning accommodation and associated services,
while others appear to look for accommodation "on a wing
and a prayer". He suggested that the new duty on local authorities
to secure sufficient local placements for children in care be
extended to cover supported accommodation for care leavers.
Barnardo's recommended that joint protocols between children's
services and housing authorities should include arrangements to
give care leavers priority in accommodation allocation
Marion Davis, Director of Children's Services at Warwickshire
County Council, suggested that private and voluntary sector providers
need more reassurance that support will be available to maintain
a young person's tenancy.
190. The Care Matters
Green Paper proposed the establishment of a capital investment
fund to support the provision of dedicated accommodation for care
the White Paper stated that the Government remained committed
to this proposal, the fund does not appear in the Care Matters
implementation action log published in March 2008.
We seek reassurance from the Government that funding will be
made available to local authorities that experience particular
difficulties in finding suitable accommodation for care leavers
due to local housing shortages. We recommend that the Government
extend the new 'sufficient placements' duty to include supported
and independent accommodation for those leaving care.
191. When we asked Baroness Morgan about the Government's
role in ensuring that there is sufficient accommodation for care
leavers, she told us:
The pilots, particularly the leaving care pilot,
have focused on the importance of empowering the young person
to take [
] a pivotal role in their own decision-making about
leaving care, such as having the opportunity to make their own
assessment of any accommodation that might be offered.
Accommodation for 16 and 17 year olds can fall between
regulatory regimes, and is not subject to assessment against clear
put it to the Minister that care leavers do not at present have
a choice of suitable accommodation. She told us that in new statutory
guidance on accommodation:
We will look at how the vetting and assessment
of supported lodgings providers should be conducted and how children's
services will be expected to work in genuine partnership with
the full range of local housing providers and registered social
We do not consider that these proposals amount to
a robust framework of standards for care leavers' accommodation.
A quality assurance framework for care leavers' accommodation
should be developed so that housing options can be assessed against
nationally agreed standards; it should not be left up to a young
person to say that the accommodation they are offered is unsuitable.
No care leaver should be placed in bed and breakfast accommodation,
and the availability of suitable accommodation must be considered
a prerequisite for a move to independent living.
192. Over a third of young people report being homeless
at some time in the year after leaving care according to research
quoted by Rainer.
The Care Matters White Paper said that homelessness should
be avoided through implementation of a young person's pathway
plan, but "where such arrangements break down, the homelessness
legislation provides an essential safety net".
Sixteen and 17 year olds and young people aged between 18 and
20 who have been in care have priority need for accommodation
under the Homelessness Act 2002, meaning that local authorities
must secure suitable accommodation for them if they become homeless
through no fault of their own. Chris Callender of the Howard League
for Penal Reform described how the legislation affects care leavers
The answer [to provision of suitable accommodation
for young people leaving care or custody] is simple: you do not
put children through the homelessness route. You do not dump them
in bed and breakfasts, which is what the homeless persons unit
is all about. You look after these children. Sixteen and 17-year-olds
are the big group that get dumped in that wayI use "dumped",
because that is how it feels when I am talking to these kids.
They are placed in bed and breakfasts under Housing Act legislation.
Sometimes they are found intentionally homeless. You have 16-year-old
children wandering around the streets of England who have been
found intentionally homeless. Therefore, the housing authority
has no duty to them and social services are merely ignoring them
] The difficulty is that the Housing Act legislation allows
local authority social services to sidestep their duties by pushing
people down the homelessness route.
Martin Hazlehurst told us that although the situation
is slowly improving, "We still hear of places where the recognised
route into housing is, 'Go and pretend that you are homeless'".
A young person may find themselves being deemed intentionally
homeless because of a wide range of circumstances that are more
likely to apply to vulnerable or under-supported care leaverssignificant
rent arrears, leaving a tenancy unexpectedly or a spell in custody,
for example. Rainer
suggested that the main reason care leavers typically feel they
have no choice about the accommodation offered to them is that
a refusal could lead to them being declared "intentionally"
concluded that there should be a presumption against declaring
any care leaver intentionally homeless except in extreme circumstances.
193. The Government issued guidance in May 2008 on
joint working between housing and children's services to prevent
We heard how effective joint working between housing and children's
services can forestall problems by anticipating the difficulties
that might lead to a terminated tenancy and by taking young people
back into supported accommodation when necessary.
There are practical difficulties in making such joint working
a reality, however. John Hill told us that
]my experience was that you had to spend
quite a lot of time educating housing people about their responsibilities
] and trying to show them that, actually, this group of
young people is different and should be their priority because
of the [corporate] parenting role.
Martin Hazlehurst described the "constant juggling
act" of an upper-tier children's services authority dealing
with district councils as the housing authorities: "Some
district councils just will not contemplate the very idea that
there are any young people in care in their districts".
There should be a presumption against declaring any care leaver
intentionally homeless. Every children's services authority should
be required to adopt a joint working protocol with the relevant
housing departments or authorities, to ensure that care leavers
are given every possible support in maintaining tenancies. Key
managers within housing departments should be included in corporate
Preventing involvement in the
criminal justice system
194. Although the overall numbers are small, children
in care are disproportionately likely to be brought into contact
with the youth justice system and to enter into custody.
In 2007, looked-after children aged 10 or over were more than
twice as likely to be convicted or subject to a final reprimand
or warning as other children of this age.
Looked-after children are in general more likely to have been
exposed to the risk factors associated with youth offending, such
as lack of parental support and poor attendance at school, and
can exhibit challenging behaviour as a reaction to the circumstances
that led to them becoming looked after.
We received some evidence indicating that certain features of
the care system itself exacerbate the chances of looked-after
children becoming involved with the criminal justice system.
Young people have told us, for example, that if they are not settled
in a good placement, they are more likely to spend time out and
about and at risk of getting into trouble.
Greater placement stability and measures to reduce the number
of out-of-area placements (a known risk factor for offending),
should help in the long run to reduce the numbers of looked-after
children who offend.
195. There are specific issues with the way in which
carers, particularly in residential homes, deal with incidents
such as property damage, or young people going missing.
Bob Ashford, Head of Youth Justice Strategy at the Youth Justice
Board (YJB) told us:
]one of our biggest concerns is that many
young people enter residential care without an offending history,
but end up with one after becoming involved in "incidents"
at the residential home. If the young person was in their own
home or in foster care, such incidents would be dealt with by
the parents or foster carers. As you have heard, very often, the
staff in residential homes involved in such incidents will tend
to be among the youngest and most underpaid in the social care
field without the necessary qualifications and support. They will,
therefore, tend to call the police, as a result of which incidents
and behaviour that might be fairly trivial end up as offences
heard in court and the young person ends up with a criminal history.
Dr Di Hart, NCB's Principal Officer, Youth Justice
and Welfare, suggested that the very nature of residential care
was part of the problem: "Various people have suggested that
the worst thing to do with a turbulent, troubled adolescent is
to accommodate them in a residential home with lots of other turbulent,
She suggested that the difference between looked-after children
and others is not necessarily in their behaviour, but in institutional
responses to that behaviour; magistrates, for example, may treat
looked-after children more harshly, such as being unwilling to
bail a young person who lives in a children's home.
196. The Care Matters Green Paper included
a commitment to develop a protocol on how children's homes should
work with the police and Youth Offending Teams to manage offending
or anti-social behaviour while avoiding criminalisation whenever
Youth Justice Board told us that protocols of this type have been
operating in some places since 2001, and there are indications
that in combination with other measures they can effect significant
reductions in the number of recorded offences by looked-after
was little, however, in the White Paper about the links between
the care system and offending.
In July 2008 the Government published its cross-departmental Youth
Crime Action Plan. The action plan put a great deal of emphasis
on the role of parenting in preventing offending, yet it did not
address the responsibility of corporate parents for children in
their care. We
asked the Minister, Baroness Morgan, what can be done to address
this issue explicitly in planning for children in care. She told
us that it was important for all professionals to create "the
right environment, in which these young people would flourish
and which would not trigger [
] offending behaviour".
197. To some extent, we recognise that general
improvements in the care systemstable placements that are
properly supported, help to achieve at school, and a gradual transition
to independencewill help to prevent looked-after children
offending. However, opportunities have been missed to take further
specific steps to address this. We ask the Government to revisit
the Youth Crime Action Plan to address explicitly the state's
responsibility as corporate parent for the disproportionate criminalisation
of young people in care.
Looked-after children in custody
198. Although we know that young people in care are
disproportionately likely to commit offences, it is not known
at a national level how many looked-after children are in the
youth justice system or specifically in custody.
Pam Hibbert, Assistant Director-Policy at Barnardo's, estimated
that around half of children in custody have some experience of
the care system.
Custodial sentences can be very disruptive and destabilising for
Children who are looked after under section 31 care orders and
then enter custody retain their looked-after status, while children
who are voluntarily accommodated under section 20 lose this status
upon entering custody. The Care Matters Green Paper acknowledged
that "many of these [voluntarily accommodated] children require
just as much support while in custody as those in care under a
care order", and proposed that local authorities be required
to carry out an assessment of their needs when entering youth
custody, "with an expectation that they will continue to
be supported as a child in care. In most cases this will entail
a social worker, a care plan, and continued support as a child
in care on leaving custody."
199. In the White Paper this proposal was replaced
by a commitment (now legislated for in the Children and Young
Persons Act 2008) to extend the requirement to visit children
in care to those children who were voluntarily accommodated immediately
before entering custody.
The White Paper explains that this is intended as "a mechanism
to identify those young people who should have a needs assessment
so that where necessary local authority children's services makes
proper plans for them on release; which could include [
readmitting the young person to care."
NCB and the Youth Justice Board expressed support for the commitment
to ensuring that local authorities maintain a relationship with
all looked-after children who go into custody, though both sought
assurances that the visits would be conducted by children's services
However, the new requirement was a cause of disappointment for
several organisations, who described it as "watered down"
and "a missed opportunity".
Bob Ashford of the Youth Justice Board and Chris Callender, Assistant
Director (Legal) of the Howard League for Penal Reform, both told
us they would like voluntarily-accommodated children to retain
their looked-after status in custody, because of the entitlements
to assistance that this would bring.
200. Di Hart of the NCB commented on the impact of
the loss of looked-after status on voluntarily-accommodated children
when they go into custody:
in practice that means that some local authorities
will then just close the case and say, 'That child is not our
responsibility while they are in custody. Give us a ring when
they are due out and we might, or might not, accommodate them
again.' Those children are in complete limbo [
] The Bill
attempts to strengthen that arrangement by saying that the local
authority will still have a duty to visit those children, but
it does not sayI think that a lot of this will be in regulations
and guidancethat it will have to assess them, provide services
for them, and arrange for them to have somewhere to live. All
it says at the moment is that the local authority will have a
duty to visit them.
We heard that some authorities do not actively continue
their parenting role even with children on care orders who enter
the secure estate, despite already having a statutory responsibility
to do so. Inspections
have revealed that a quarter of authorities do not provide an
adequate service for children in custody who retain their looked-after
status, with some inappropriately transferring their care responsibilities
to Youth Offending Teams.
Di Hart reported that looked-after children in custody overwhelmingly
]felt abandoned by the social care system.
They had had social workers with whom they were familiar in the
looked-after system. Once they started to commit offences, they
felt that they had somehow been handed over to the youth justice
] They lost their placement while they were in
custody, so they almost had to start again when they came out.
All of the things that had supported them beforethe relationships
and placementshad been severed.
201. Some of our witnesses attributed the lack of
contact with looked-after children in custody to local authorities
wishing to divest themselves of financial responsibility for children's
care, and the practical difficulties of visiting children who
are placed in institutions some distance away.
However, Caroline Abrahams, LGA Programme Director for Children
& Young People, refuted these claims: "I do not think
that anyone has any evidence that stacks up that suggests that
[the cost shift] influences the decisions that local authorities
202. We asked the Minister how we can ensure that
local authorities do what they are supposed to do, specifically
with respect to visiting in custody. She told us:
]it is about having a tough inspection
regime so that if local authorities are not doing this, their
Ofsted inspection will show that their children's services are
not delivering in the way that we expect them to. There is a lever;
we just have to makes sure that we are using it.
We recommend that children accommodated under
voluntary agreements should retain their looked-after status when
entering custody; we consider that this would be a greater safeguard
of the continuity of each young person's care than the new requirement
to continue visiting children. We are concerned that even children
on care orders may not be receiving the services they are entitled
to when in custody, and we seek reassurance that inspection will
be an adequate tool for enforcing the new visiting requirements
when it has apparently failed to enforce existing requirements.
203. The Howard League for Penal Reform expressed
concern that many young people who enter the criminal justice
system have never received the protection or assistance of looked-after
status, despite having very similar needs to those in the care
system. They might have been abused or been homeless, but have
never been identified as needing assistance. Youth Offending Team
workers may recognise these needs, but are unable formally to
designate a child as "in need" or to instigate accommodation
on behalf of the local authority, and many children's services
departments are unwilling to accept referrals from YOTs for assessments.
We recommend that the Government identify and implement a mechanism
for automatically triggering a needs assessment by the relevant
children's services authority when a child comes into contact
with the criminal justice system.
204. We heard concern from several quarters that
the care and youth justice systems do not always work well together,
either because they have different aims and values, or because
of administrative divisions.
Bob Ashford disagreed with the characterisation of a "welfare/justice
divide" but told us that "many local agencies, such
as children's services, now see young people who are offending
and who are also looked after as the remit of the local youth
Chris Callender put it more bluntly; children's services, he said,
"dump on Youth Offending Teams".
Di Hart argued that social care services interpreted the Crime
and Disorder Act 1998 (which established YOTs) as "letting
them off the hook" in terms of responsibility for young people
who offend. We
recommend that the lead responsibility of children's services
for looked-after children in the youth justice system be re-asserted,
so that extremely vulnerable children are not denied the support
they need by being excluded from mainstream services when they
come into contact with Youth Offending Teams.
205. In 2005 the Youth Justice
Board established and funded posts for social workers in each
of the 25 Young Offenders Institutions (YOIs) in England and Wales.
The YJB's evaluation indicated that this was an important specialist
service that dealt with a previously unmet need.
Bob Ashford told us that "in terms of the contacts, knowledge
and expertise of those social workers within youth custody, it
has been extremely valuable."
In January 2008 the DCSF stated that local authorities with YOIs
in their areas should fund the posts from 2009-10 onwards.
The Howard League for Penal Reform told us that uncertainty about
the funding had contributed to recruitment and retention problems,
with only 10 of the 25 posts filled in January 2008.
Bob Ashford told us that the YJB "have some concernsI
will be quite frankabout how, if and when local authorities
will be able to pick up that responsibility, given the other budgetary
pressures in social services."
We ask the Government to guarantee future funding for social
workers posts in Youth Offending Institutions.
206. In 2007, 3,525 unaccompanied children aged 17
or under applied for asylum in the United Kingdom.
The Care Matters White Paper confirmed the Government's
policy that it is appropriate for the majority of unaccompanied
asylum-seeking children to enter local authority care. At 31st
March 2008, 3,500 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children were looked
after, 66% of them aged 16 or over.
Baroness Morgan told us that "when unaccompanied asylum-seeking
children arrive in this country they are looked-after children
and should benefit from all the services, support and care that
any looked-after child should expect."
There are however, obvious differences in the circumstances of
unaccompanied asylum-seeking children which set them apart from
the majority of the care population, principally that their care
and pathway planning must take into account the likelihood of
their asylum claim being refused.
207. The Fostering Network, children's charity NCH,
and the Association of Directors of Children's Services all expressed
concerns to us about the place of unaccompanied asylum-seeking
children in the care system, and whether they are guaranteed to
receive the same types and level of support as other children
in care. Lisa
Nandy, Chair of the Refugee Children's Consortium, argued that
while Care Matters is a largely welcome package of reforms,
policy on this specific group of looked-after children has generally
gone and is going in the opposite direction, and "their asylum-seeking
status has become the overriding element that determines the way
in which they are treated and supported".
The Refugee Children's Consortium argued that the primacy of immigration
control over children's welfare is at least partly a consequence
of the fact that unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are the
only group of children in the UK for which responsibility lies
entirely outside the DCSF's remit.
The UK Border Agency, Lisa Nandy told us, "has a completely
different set of skills and experience and a completely different
ethos" to the DCSF.
208. The Government has announced its intention to
change the law to require the UK Border Agency to safeguard children
by making it subject to section 11 of the Children Act 2004.
This is a welcome step, but one that will have little impact on
the experience of asylum-seeking children already in the care
system. We share the concern of witnesses to the inquiry that
unaccompanied asylum-seeking children be considered as "children
first and foremost",
and wish to see the Government take steps to ensure that this
principle is reflected in policy and practice. We heard encouraging
reports about the impact that the joint unit for youth justice
has had in bringing together the DCSF and the Ministry of Justice
since its launch in November 2007.
We recommend that the Department for Children, Schools and
Families assume formal joint responsibility with the Home Office
for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.
209. In January 2008, the UK Border Agency published
Better Outcomes: the way forward; improving the care of unaccompanied
asylum-seeking children. Lisa Nandy told us that some of the
proposals in Better Outcomes are at odds with the intentions
of Care Matters (and in fact with the wider Every Child
Matters agenda), specifically that unaccompanied asylum-seeking
children in the care system should leave their foster placements
at age 16. The
very patchy support available to these children upon leaving care
at 18, and the difficulty of obtaining funding for higher education
are further points of concern.
Clear guidance must be given to local authorities that all
of the provisions of Care Matters, and the principles of
good care planning, apply equally and without exception to unaccompanied
asylum-seeking children. We are particularly anxious that the
Government resolve the contradiction between the importance that
Care Matters places on continuity of care for looked-after
children older than 16, and the expectation that young asylum-seekers
will leave their foster placements at that age.
210. Lisa Nandy described the lack of support available
to unaccompanied children as they progress through the asylum
Try to imagine a UK child who was alleging abuse,
which is essentially what you get with this group of children
and young peoplethey are alleging that they have been abused
in some way. It would be unthinkable to put them through the sort
of adult adversarial process that we put these children through
at the moment, with very minimal support [
] The sheer bewilderment
among these children about the process that they are going through
is incredible to behold."
We heard of children having to instruct their own
solicitors, and having to ring round schools to find themselves
a place. The Refugee
Children's Consortium argued that a guardian should be appointed
for every child in the asylum process, to ensure that they get
a fair hearing.
Children's rights organisation ECPAT UK's 2007 report Missing
Out identified 80 suspected or confirmed child trafficking
victims, 60% of whom had gone missing from local authority care.
Information obtained by the Care Leavers' Association from local
authorities, published in December 2008, showed that up to 389
children had gone missing from care since 2000 and had not subsequently
been traceda high proportion of these were unaccompanied
We support the idea of appointing guardians for unaccompanied
asylum-seeking children, to ensure that they are properly supported
through the asylum process, and that swift access to services
such as education is arranged on their behalf. We are concerned
about the particular vulnerability of this group of children to
trafficking, and would like the role of guardian to include a
remit to ensure that children do not go missing.