Doncaster failing homeless young people, says Ombudsman

The council received its second critical decision in two years for failing to accommodate homeless older teens

Photo: Monkey Business Images/REX Shutterstock. Posed by models

Doncaster council has been criticised for the second time in two years for its social workers’ failure to support homeless young people.

The Local Government Ombudsman said the council should have conducted a child in need assessment of a 16-year-old who had been thrown out of her house by her mother, in a report published today.

Not considered homeless

She approached the council’s homelessness team after her mother asked her to leave the home in December 2014. However, a social work manager said he did not consider the girl to be homeless as her father agreed she could return home.

The girl had been known to social services since the age of 11 because of her parents’ use of alcohol and drugs and allegations of domestic violence.

She lived with her father from the age of 12 following her parents’ separation, during which time she was effectively his carer due to his heavy drinking.

She moved in with her mother in 2013 after her father hit her when drunk, but concerns were raised by the child and adolescent mental health service (Camhs) that her mother also drank heavily and did not want her daughter living with her.

Self-harming

The girl had been self-harming and is now being prescribed anti-depressants.

The council had claimed the girl had said she did not want to be placed in foster care or for the council to be responsible for her.

But the ombudsman said when the council asked the girl if she wanted social services to assess her, the only type of accommodation discussed was foster care.

Not informed

There was no evidence she was informed about other types of accommodation or advised about the other benefits of being looked after, such as ongoing social work support and financial assistance to move towards becoming independent.

The girl’s social worker felt she was refusing to be assessed, had a parent willing to look after her and that concerns about his drinking and aggressive behaviour did not amount to a child protection concern. The council also said the girl had decided she did not wish to pursue a complaint against social services, but she later said she felt bullied into withdrawing the complaint.

Children Act

The ombudsman said it seemed likely that, had she been assessed, the girl would have met the criteria for support and accommodation under section 20 of the Children Act 1989.

The failure to do so meant she had to sleep on friends’ sofas and in a mixed hostel. She relied on money from her school’s emergency fund to buy food and only found the hostel accommodation after receiving help from a local housing project.

New protocol

Doncaster was criticised by the Local Government Ombudsman in 2014 when it left a vulnerable teenager without proper support after she was made homeless by her parents. As a result of that investigation the council agreed to change its protocol on 16- and 17-year-olds in housing need.

The council has accepted the ombudsman’s recommendations to pay the girl £2,000, backdate its section 20 duty to December 2014 to ensure she is eligible for the relevant leaving care support and provide training for all relevant staff on the council’s responsibilities for assessing homeless 16- and 17-year-olds.

The council must also explain how it will ensure homeless older teens are properly assessed in future.

Local Government Ombudsman Jane Martin said: “The suffering this young woman has gone through could have been prevented if the council had learnt the lessons from our report last year. It is not enough to simply change a policy, officers need to be aware of and implement those changes too.”

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