Hidden homeless

A plethora of new government initiatives
relating to youth homelessness urgently requires local authorities
and other agencies to work together and listen to young people,
says the Foyer Federation’s Carolyn Hayman.

Recently, Macclesfield discovered it had a
youth homelessness problem. More precisely, there were 60 people
aged under 20 in the Cheshire town who had no settled address or
were at risk of homelessness. These young people had not been
identified by the housing department, social services or a youth
homelessness charity. The agency that raised the issue was Cheshire
and Warrington Connexions, the new youth support service.

It’s almost inconceivable that its
predecessor, the Careers Service, could or would have identified
the problem. The brief of Connexions – the best start in life for
every young person – is much wider. So is its reach. Tony
Challinor, director of Cheshire and Warrington Connexions,
explains: “Where careers might have been in touch with 91 per cent
of the age group, we’ve raised that to over 99 per cent. The
difference is that we now have personal advisers who can go where
young people are and receive information from a range of agencies
and from parents and the young people themselves. We’re not getting
everyone and perhaps we never will – but we have more comprehensive
contacts with young people than any other agency.”

As Connexions services get to grips with their
brief (not all are up and running), a similar situation is being
revealed across England. In Shropshire, the Connexions service is
building on its relationship with Ludlow Foyer (see box) to raise
the question of Foyer development in Shrewsbury and elsewhere. In
South Yorkshire, youth homelessness has surfaced as one of the
priorities for Connexions.

This is timely from the point of view of other
agencies as well. The Homes Bill became law recently, obliging
local authorities to house vulnerable 16-17 year olds. The housing
policy Supporting People requires local authorities to map the
needs of people who require support as well as accommodation, prior
to the introduction of the new financing system in April 2003. And
from October, social services departments have been required to
accommodate young people leaving care up to the age of 18, and to
stay in touch with them until they are 21. In the background, youth
offending teams fret about the lack of accommodation for young
offenders leaving custody. Young teenage mothers who are unable to
live at home must, by 2003, be housed in supported accommodation,
rather than thrust into independent living. And from April 2002, 75
per cent of health service funding will flow through the new
primary care trusts.

This plethora of government initiatives
urgently requires local authorities and their partner agencies,
such as Connexions, to develop joined-up strategies to meet the
needs of young people at risk. The strategies reflect a real
problem. More and more 16-17 year olds are presenting as homeless.
No one quite knows why, but Joan Smith of Staffordshire University
suggests (based on interviews with young people on north
Staffordshire estates): “A 42 year old is younger now than 20 years
ago. Parent or not, they believe they are entitled to another
chance of happiness with a different partner. Twenty years ago,
they may have given the child more priority. Now, if the child gets
in the way, it’s as likely as not to be the child that goes.”

Local authorities and partners have the
opportunity to start to join things up, both strategically and
operationally. Joining up strategically means coming to a shared
view about:

– The needs of young people at risk (not just
for housing, but drug and alcohol treatment services, mental health
services, life skills training, family mediation and others).

– What targets should be set collectively to
improve their position?

– What resources can be deployed?

– What is the best way to provide

Following the lead of Connexions, which in
many areas has broken new ground in consulting young people
(including them, for example, on selection panels for staff), it is
essential that the strategy development phase takes account of the
views of potential users. Money is scarce, and needs to be deployed
on the services and in the locations where it will have most

Joining up strategically is only the first
step. The real effects will come when there is joined-up working

– A shared database of young people, with
protected fields that different agencies can use for sensitive

– Shared targets.

– A single action plan that encompasses the
plans of all the partner agencies.

– Pooled funding (for example, bringing
together the five different sources of substance misuse money, or
the 40 different sources of basic skills funding, into a single pot
that can be accessed to support the shared action plan).

– Shared posts – for example, a Connexions
worker who is also the Leaving Care personal adviser and a Foyer
support worker (see box).

Different local authorities are using
different structures – what works in a rural area may not fit an
urban area. In Cornwall, for example, social services have divided
the county into three sub-regions, each with a local committee and
a project leader for children under four, four to 13 and 13
upwards. The committees bring together all the agencies, including
the voluntary sector, working with the age group, and the
county-wide Children & Young People’s Strategic Partnership is
also the Connexions Local Management Committee.

Putting this kind of machinery in place is
essential if we are to improve the quality of existing services,
identify the gaps in service provision and find the most effective
way of meeting them. But that’s only the beginning. The real
pay-off will come when services start working together to prevent
young people becoming homeless in the first place. For although
homelessness is only one facet of young people’s needs, it tends to
get in the way of dealing effectively with the others.

Safe in the City, a London-based charity, has
pioneered a diagnostic approach that aims to identify young people
at risk of homelessness, and, through partnership working, put in
place services that will either enable them to stay at home for
longer or acquire the life skills to be able to move out
successfully. The Foyer Federation is working with Connexions
National Unit to build on the lessons learned to design a service,
Safe Moves, that could be delivered within mainstream funding
across England.

It’s a big challenge. But remember what set
this train going in Macclesfield – finding the previously
unaccounted for young people and asking them what they needed.
Sometimes their voice needs to be amplified – they may need to make
a video to persuade the city fathers in Macclesfield that
homelessness really does exist. But eventually, if all the agencies
listen to young people, they will not be able to avoid working

Then it will be a lot easier to meet those
government targets that keep raining down.

Carolyn Hayman is chief executive of
the Foyer Federation.

Joined-up support

In Shropshire Ludlow Foyer, Connexions and
social services have a partnership that provides support to young
people who are at risk or have a social services input. The
partnership secured funding for a full-time support worker and
Connexions personal adviser. The support worker and Connexions
personal adviser (Karen Morgan) spend 14 hours supporting Foyer
residents with higher than average support needs who have been
referred by social services, and 14 hours with the Connexions
Multi-Agency Team as a personal adviser with a caseload of eight
young people who are still at school. The young people at school
are referred by education welfare officers, the school or
behavioural support services. These young people are often
supported and trained at the Foyer and so become familiar with the
project and are in effect potential Foyer residents. Offering
life-skills training at the Foyer to young people still at school
has helped Connexions break down a lot of barriers. Social services
offer Morgan training and an opportunity to go to leaving care team
meetings. The rest of Morgan’s time is spent doing an NVQ IV in
guidance, which is funded by Connexions. This partnership offers a
joined-up approach to at-risk young people in south Shropshire. The
Foyer gets a support worker for its more needy residents and
Connexions gets an additional adviser to take on a caseload of more
at-risk young people.

– “Integrating strategies for young people at
risk” is one of the topics in a seminar for agencies interested in
Foyer development to be held on 17 April in Brighton. Call 0207 833
8616 for information.

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