Children’s charity Coram and its solicitor partners have accused cash-strapped councils of ‘Rotherham-type’ child protection failures for wilfully neglecting their legal duties to vulnerable teenagers.
Coram (pictured) alleges that the failure of local authorities to comply with the law is leaving children homeless and at risk of abuse.
This is the key finding of ‘The Door Is Closed’, a report issued by Coram Voice, a charity that which supports homeless children. In 2013-14, Coram Voice helped over 200 children and young people to challenge decisions by children’s services which had led to them becoming homeless.
Under the Children Act, councils’ children’s services have an obligation to assess any child who presents as homeless or at risk of immediate homelessness. The child should be accommodated while the assessment is being carried out and, in most cases, should then be taken into care.
Instead, Coram Voice alleges that councils were often telling children to go back to their families or leave them to ‘sofa surf’. When these options are not available, children can be passed to the council housing department which will find them accommodation, often in hostels for vulnerable adults and without any of the extra support needed by children in care.
The report emerged from a programme in which Coram Voice works with the New Horizon Youth Centre in London and a group of solicitors. The programme is forcing councils to reopen cases, give homeless young adults their care status retrospectively, and so provide them with housing while starting to tackle problems they face as they make the transition from a life on the streets.
One solicitor interviewed for the report said: ‘The general attitude towards these children who are suffering obvious maltreatment is “go home and stop bothering us”. There are Rotherham-type child protection failures.
‘Some local authorities are challenged over and over again - they know what the law is and they know what they should be doing, but deliberately don’t do it. They only start to engage when they get a legal challenge.’
Sending children back to their families with no follow-up support is not sustainable, the report argues.
Sara Gomes, a Coram Voice advocate who has been helping get children housed, said: ‘Families break down again and children leave home again, ending up at risk of harm and exploitation. And many children who say they are sofa surfing are actually sleeping on night buses, with strangers, or in drug dens.’