One in five children living in hostels and other supported accommodation should be in the care of local authorities because they are at risk of homelessness, according to the legal charity Just for Kids Law. The group argues new research has revealed a legal loophole which leaves children to fend for themselves in unregulated children’s homes.
The law states that both local authority children’s services and housing services must provide housing for homeless children aged between 16 and 17. According to the charity, case law and guidance make clear that children’s services have the primary responsibility, which means that children who are homeless should normally be in care.
However, councils have been housing children under the Housing Act 1996 and giving them a bare minimum of support. A child in care is entitled to regular contact from a social worker, financial allowances on turning 18, support from the local authority up to the age of 25 and priority access to social housing.
Children not in care have no legal right to any other support other than a place to live and are given no support at all after they turn 18. Unregulated children’s homes are ‘dirty and unsafe’ and put children ‘at considerable risk’, according to Just For Kids Law. Ofsted do not inspect unregulated accommodation, where children may only receive a few hours’ support from staff per week and are forced to live alongside adults who are involved in alcohol or substance abuse.
Approximately four out of 10 local authorities (134) responded to a freedom of information request. In a 12 month period ending April 2019, 1,010 16- and 17-year olds were housed without being taken into care. Based on that. JFK estimates that the figure across all local authorities would be approximately 2,585. Of these, 585 young people who were not in care were housed in unregulated placements on 31 March 2019. Based on this, the group reckons the figure across all local authorities would be 1,498.
In February 2020, the Department for Education launched a consultation on unregulated accommodation after campaigners and MPs put pressure on the government which is currently open. Just For Kids Law have called for the law to be changed so that no child under 18 can be placed in unregulated accommodation and denied their right to be taken into care.
‘These forgotten children are the some of the most vulnerable in our society yet they are being left without the support they desperately need, neglected by the state,’ commented Enver Solomon, JFK’s chief exec. ‘It should never be acceptable for a child who has faced great adversity to be without a caring home. The government needs to urgently address the legal loophole that is allowing this to happen and ensure no child who is facing homelessness has to cope alone with minimal support.’