A serious case review (SCR) into the suicide of a Polish teenager in Manchester has criticised social workers for failing to respond to his needs, in line with the Southwark judgement on homeless 16- and 17-year-olds.
Child S, 17, arrived in the UK with his father who then abandoned him. Referred by a drop-in centre to Manchester Council’s children’s services, he was assessed as being 17 and therefore a child. The SCR found that social workers did not treat him as a child in need and failed to do anything more than place him in bed and breakfast (B&B) accommodation.
Due to confusion over whether he wished to be repatriated to Poland and also how old he was, despite the age assessment, the payments to the B&B were cancelled more than once, leaving him periodically homeless.
He was arrested several times by police for trying to steal clothes and public drunkenness. He made several suicide attempts while in custody and eventually was found hanged in his B&B accommodation.
The review found that, although legal advice about the Southwark judgement had been circulated to practitioners, it was not included in updated procedural guidance. The Southwark ruling made councils responsible for the health needs and well-being of homeless 16- and 17-year-olds.
The review highlighted that Child S was the victim of unclear pathways of care for this age group. He was treated by the police as an adult and was assessed by some adults’ services, but he was also declared to be a child by children’s services and youth offending teams.
“Despite the fact that Child S was known to a range of services and professionals over a 10-month period, little was known about his life,” the SCR stated. “This review identified many areas of Child S’s life that should have been addressed prior to his death, including the impact of being abandoned in an unfamiliar country by his father, continued homelessness, no means of financial support, alcohol misuse, deteriorating emotional and mental health and no means of accessing life-enhancing opportunities.
“The question of whether suicide is ever predictable has and will continue to tax eminent psychiatrists. In Child S’s case, it is reasonable to conclude that the combination of stressful life events coupled with his limited protective factors made him especially vulnerable.”
The review’s authors recommended Manchester Council consider the recommendations of the Social Work Taskforce in relation to caseloads and that all homeless 16- and 17-year-olds have an initial assessment of need. It also recommended Manchester police take note of forthcoming guidance that under-18s should be considered as children.
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