Lola’s story: The risk of relaxing assessment deadlines

Following a recent Community Care article examining claims that the relaxation of assessment deadlines is putting vulnerable children at risk, Judy Cooper spoke to a 17-year-old girl in a London trial authority who wants social workers to be aware of the risks.

Lola*, who recently turned 17, was made homeless in March after tensions between her and her mother reached breaking point. Both her parents have documented mental health problems, as does her grandmother. She used to stay with her great-grandmother when things flared up, but this support disappeared when her great-grandmother died.

“My relationship with my mother was getting worse and worse and I couldn’t cope with it any longer. My mum loves me, she told social services that, but she couldn’t deal with me any longer and I couldn’t cope with her either.

“So I went to social services and asked for help. I felt like my life was really unstable. Someone I knew had been accommodated by social services under section 20 (s20) and my situation was similar so I asked for s20 accommodation.

Assessment delays

“But my mum got scared when social services called. She wouldn’t admit that she didn’t want me there anymore so they told me I could go home. Half an hour after I went home she threw me out. I went back to social services to ask for help. My social worker said he couldn’t help until he’d done the initial assessment. It was supposed to take 10 days, but it took three weeks.

“During the initial assessment, the social worker told me section 17 was the same as s20 and I would get the same support. So he recorded on the assessment that I did not want s20, even though I’d told him over and over again that I did.

“By then I was in touch with an advocate who had given me information so I knew the difference. I told the social worker he’d got it wrong, including the most basic information about me. I asked him to change the assessment and I wrote down everything that was wrong in it. But that delayed things even further because then they said I needed to have a second initial assessment.

‘I was so angry’

“They did the second initial assessment and said I could live with my Dad. I was so angry. My dad had just come out of hospital. He needed someone to care for him; there’s no way he could look after me. They knew that in the first assessment so I didn’t get why they brought it up now.”

“By this point I’d been living with my friend’s mum for about a month and a half. I knew I had to go. I didn’t have any money and she didn’t want me there anymore. But they kept delaying. I knew I had to stay somewhere else so I had a meeting with my social worker. He said they could house me under s17 but if I wanted s20 they couldn’t. I needed somewhere to stay so I went to a hostel, but I felt like they gave me no choice.

“There was a mix-up at the hostel – they didn’t know I wanted to move in that day. I thought they weren’t going to let me stay. I had all my stuff and I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t breathe and I started shaking and crying. I think they felt sorry for me as they ended up sorting it all out.

Legal challenge

“My social worker told me I needed to apply for benefits, but I didn’t know how or what to do. I was only 16. The whole time I was pleading with them to help me because I didn’t have anyone else, but it felt like they were trying to find ways and reasons not to help me.

“After the second initial assessment, my advocate told me I could get some legal help if I wanted, so my lawyer challenged the assessment and gave them two weeks to reconsider their decision. They came back and asked for another 10 days to do a third assessment.

“I was so stressed I had to see my doctor. I was diagnosed with ADHD a few years ago and all this brought on anxiety attacks. I felt really depressed. Finally, at the beginning of this month, I had a third initial assessment and they said I could have s20.

Stability at last

“I feel much better now. I don’t have a care plan yet but it feels like I’ve got a bit of stability. And I don’t mind the hostel – it’s my own space and I keep it clean. I don’t want to move around until they find me some supported accommodation, I just want somewhere stable.

“I’ve got a new social worker now and I like her. It feels like she actually wants to help me, rather than cut corners and save money like the others. I know we’re kids but we’re not stupid. We can see what they’re trying to do.”

*Name has been changed

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