Ombudsman raps Kent for failings in care of homeless teenager

Council's decision not to treat homeless teen as a looked-after child led to him being denied access to key welfare services, finds watchdog

A local authority is reviewing its protocols on homeless young people after being criticised by the Local Government Ombudsman for failing to support a 16-year-old who was abandoned by his parents.

The boy was left homeless in February 2011 when the family home, where he was living with an older sibling since the rest of the family had left, was repossessed.

An assessment carried out by Kent social services concluded that neither of the boy’s parents were available to care for him. But after the boy refused foster care, the council concluded it had “no further role” to play and referred him to the local housing authority without deeming him a looked-after child.

The ombudsman ruled that the decision not to treat the boy as a looked-after child had reduced his access to support and meant that when the boy turned 18 he was not considered a priority by the housing authority because he was not a care leaver.

“Because of the fault of the council, this vulnerable person was denied access to key welfare services that he was entitled to and that the council has a duty to provide,” said Nigel Ellis, executive director for investigations at the ombudsman.

“I believe that if he was given the right information about the benefits of being under the council’s care, the complainant would have accepted them,” Ellis said.

Council flouted duty to provide welfare, ombudsman finds

In its report the ombudsman noted the boy was “clearly a child in need” when he first became homeless, and that while he had refused foster care the council still had a duty to provide accommodation under Section 20 of the Children Act 1989.

The ombudsman recommended that the council now classes the boy as a care leaver, assesses his entitlement to care leaver services, puts aside £3,000 for the loss of welfare benefits over the two year period and reviews its joint protocol on homeless young people. Kent council has accepted all the recommendations.

“Kent County Council is committed to resolving matters to make sure this vulnerable young person is given the help he needs,” said Jenny Whittle, the cabinet member for specialist children’s services at the council. “He has been allocated a social worker and, prior to the ombudsman report, we have already written to the housing authority to confirm that he should be treated as a care leaver.”

She added that while the council accepts the boy should have been deemed a child in need, the ombudsman’s report “does not fully reflect the complexities of the case”. 

“We did repeatedly offer him foster care, which he refused, and gave him financial help but we accept that we failed to offer him a wider range of accommodation.”

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