Hundreds of vulnerable children are facing homelessness and without support as a result of a legal loophole, a charity has revealed.
New data published by Just for Kids Law, compiled from freedom of information requests, found that hundreds of vulnerable children facing homelessness are being left to fend for themselves without support in unregulated children’s homes due to a legal loophole.
Enver Solomon, Just for Kids Law’s Chief Executive said: “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. 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.”
The data shows that an estimated 1,498 children aged 16 and 17 who are at risk of homelessness and should be in the care of local authorities are being placed in unregulated children’s homes, which include hostels and supported accommodation with minimal adult supervision, leaving them exposed to exploitation or abuse. This is one in five of all children in unregulated homes.
Homeless children should be taken into care by the local authority but by housing them under the Housing Act 1996 enables councils to place them in unregulated accommodation and provide a bare minimum of support.
Just for Kids law works with children who are denied their right to be taken into care despite being homeless. Many of these children have experienced, violence or neglect and are in urgent need of the state to act as their parent and look after them by providing a caring home.
However, instead, these children are housed in unregulated accommodation that is dirty and unsafe, and forced to live alongside adults who have alcohol or substance abuse problems. Ofsted does not inspect unregulated accommodation and these children may only receive a few hours’ support a week from a staff member, placing them at considerable risk.
A child who is in care is entitled to regular contact from a social worker and on turning 18 will become a care leaver with a right to financial allowances, support from the local authority up to age 25 and priority access to social housing.
Children who are not in care have no legal right to any support, other than a place to live and are not given any support when they turn 18.
Just for Kids Law is calling for a change in the law to ensure that no child under 18 is placed in unregulated accommodation and denied their right to be taken into care.
In February, the Department for Education launched a public consultation on unregulated accommodation following pressure from campaigners and MPs to end the use of this type of accommodation for children.
To support the consultation, the DfE commissioned research on looked after children in independent or semi-independent placements which states that 6,180 looked after children were living in these settings at 31 March 2019. However, the report does not count those children who have not been taken into care – even though these children may be living in exactly the same unregulated homes as those in care.
Not in Care, Not Counted A legal loophole: homeless 16- and 17-year olds and unregulated accommodation