Education & Family

Many teenagers 'moved from care to B&Bs'

Teenager alone Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Staying alone in unsuitable accommodation can be a frightening experience

More than half of English councils place young people leaving care in unsuitable accommodation for long periods, data from a charity suggests.

Barnardo's said 51% of councils placed teenagers in bed-and-breakfasts for a month or more in 2013-14.

Under government guidance, councils should only use B&Bs in an emergency when a young person needs urgent help.

The Local Government Association said authorities worked "extremely hard" to find suitable accommodation.

Children's charity Barnardo's obtained the figures from responses to Freedom of Information requests to all 152 English local authorities.

'Limited budgets'

They showed 100 out of 137 councils (73%) used B&B accommodation for those leaving care last year.

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Media captionSecret filming by Barnardo's showed ''unsafe and filthy'' conditions

Some 51% placed care leavers in B&Bs for 28 days or more, while just under half (46%) placed care leavers in B&Bs repeatedly.

Young people can leave care from the age of 16, but around two-thirds leave aged 18.

Local authority children's services have to draw up plans for each care leaver which plot their path out of care to independence until the age of 21.

They are also required to provide those under 18 with accommodation as a key part of their pathway plans.

The accommodation must be suitable and must take into account the youngsters' needs and wishes as far as possible. Councils must also be satisfied about the suitability of any landlord, the latest guidance also says.

Barnardo's director Puja Darbari said: "We recognise that local authorities are working with limited budgets but they need a range of other ways of providing emergency accommodation."

Ms Darbari spent a night in a B&B where care leavers are placed to experience what they faced.

She said: "From the noise of people right outside the door to the pest control box in the room and sirens wakening me in the middle of the night, it really was a horrible experience. I'm a grown woman and I was scared. I can't begin to imagine how a 16-year-old would cope in that situation.

"Many of these young people have already had horrific childhoods. Surely we owe them more than placing them on their own in such a squalid and isolating environment, against government guidelines?"

'Fewer leaving younger'

Councillor Nick Forbes, vice chairman of the Local Government Association's children and young people's board, said: "This report lays bare the difficulties that some councils are facing in finding emergency care options for vulnerable adolescents.

"Both local and national government must work closely together to make sure there is suitable accommodation for all young people."

Cllr Forbes said councils were facing "real difficulties" in finding emergency care because of housing shortages, funding cuts and the large number of young people entering the care system.

He said it was important to find accommodation that is "appropriate, safe, and tailored towards their individual needs" and added: "Like any family, councils aim to provide support for youngsters as they move towards adulthood and an independent life."

A Department for Education spokesman said it had been "crystal clear" that young people must not be placed in bed and breakfasts unless absolutely essential.

"We will take tough action where we find councils are routinely failing these vulnerable young people," he said.

"We have significantly improved the support on offer to young people leaving care, including changing the law so all children in foster care can stay until they are 21, and have tightened the rules so fewer young people leave care before they are truly ready.

"We are also changing the way we collect information on accommodation used to house care leavers, which will provide us with a clear picture on the use of bed and breakfasts across the country."

He added that all councils are expected to provide the £2,000 care leavers' allowance to help care leavers set up their first home.

All children are now allowed to stay in care with their foster families after they turn 18 following a £40m funding boost and a new legal duty on councils to provide support.

Barnardo's has said it would like to see youngsters move into supported lodgings which provide family-based help for vulnerable young people, or short-term emergency supported lodgings known as crash pads with specialist support.

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