No place like home

Family support is vital to prevent youth homelessness, argues
Rosemary Watt Wyness of charity Safe in the City.

Youth agencies recognise the importance of working holistically
with young people, but only services that also involve the parents,
carers and families can really claim to be delivering such an
approach. This is particularly important in order to prevent
homelessness among young people.

Most agencies operate with the ethos that young people need a
private space where they can build trust with workers and come up
with ideas to resolve their problems. This recognises the role
families play in causing problems for young people, but does not
acknowledge their role in developing solutions to young
people’s problems. However, if we want to develop services
that deal with a young person’s short and long-term needs in
the round, we need to look at how family support can be integrated
with services aimed at young people individually.

There is a real shortage of family support for parents with
teenage children, mainly because of funding gaps. Prevention work
aimed at the over-14s now being developed by the Connexions
service, while valuable, is focused principally around the young
person, and does not meet the needs of the family unit. Sure Start
and the Children’s Fund provide preventive support for young
people, which includes work with parents and carers, but it tails
off once a young person reaches 14.

After 14, the only support targeted at a young person and the
family is for pregnant teenagers and mothers to be, or is limited
to times of crisis when social services are required to intervene.
Hard-pressed social services must concentrate on those teenagers
with urgent overwhelming needs, leaving many teenagers and their
families with a serious support shortfall. And resources aimed at
supporting young families are also swamped.

The charity Safe in the City was established to prevent youth
homelessness, and with its partner projects has tried to find ways
to bring together family support with personal development work.
This is done through eight London-based “cluster
schemes” which provide individually tailored services,
involving families, to 13-18 year olds at risk of homelessness.

Shortage of support for families in conflict from other sources
means that, as has happened in Lambeth, south London, in some areas
our scheme has been overwhelmed with referrals from Sure Start Plus
of teenager mothers or mothers to be. The charity believes that the
remit of the Children’s Fund must be broadened to support
intensive work aimed at families with teenagers. If not, other
initiatives which aim to meet the needs of the most disadvantaged
young people will fail.

The schemes’ family support work addresses the issues
which are causing conflict. It includes group work sessions for
parents, specifically aimed at parenting teenagers, and group work
for young people focusing on a range of family, health and
communication issues. The aim is to keep young people in the family
home safely and to empower parents to play a more active role in
their child’s development. The focus of our support targets
risk indicators developed from research and experience. The highest
ranking risk factor for future homelessness, identified by our
Taking Risks research,1 was that young people
who did not get on with their mother were 13 times more likely than
other teenagers to become homeless. The study also showed that six
out of 10 young homeless people reported regular arguments at

These conclusions have been reinforced by the government’s
Social Exclusion Unit, whose policy action team report on young
people identified family conflict as a root cause of

Support for the whole family is vital if young people are to be
effectively helped. If this support is lacking, youth homelessness
cannot be tackled properly.


Taking Risks,
Safe in the City, 1999

Rosemary Watt Wyness is head of operations for Safe in
the City.

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