Children’s services are “failing” destitute migrant children by placing them in inadequate housing, research has found.
The research – commissioned by the Hackney Community Law Centre and Hackney Migrant Centre – looked at the housing support offered to destitute migrant children and their families under section 17 of the Children Act 1989.
It found that almost two-thirds of housing provided was “short of meeting the practical and emotional needs of the children and their principal carers”.
Surveys of the views of 57 supported families, spread across 21 different local authorities (the majority of them in London), found that they had restricted access to cooking facilities, were in accommodation located away from their previous environment, and were housed in damp or mouldy conditions.
The families in the study were under immigration control and from outside the European Economic Area. They included families with no recourse to public funds though most were not asylum seekers. The study found 64% of properties provided to these destitute families were unsuitable, and some “breached basic housing law standards”.
This was affecting the children’s welfare and development, the report said, resulting in stress, anxiety or depression.
“Children’s services are failing children by regularly providing accommodation that has a detrimental impact on their physical, psychological and personal development, with long term effects on their life chances,” the report concluded.
Not meeting duties
The study argued that local authorities were not meeting their duties under the Children Act 1989 because the support being given did not meet the standard of section 17. This places a duty on local authorities to provide assistance to children in need and their families, and also imposes a duty that a local authority must safeguard and promote a child’s welfare.
The report said the findings should form guidance for social workers on how to approach support in these cases, and that the standard of housing provided under section 17 should be viewed from a safeguarding perspective. It also called for a review of section 17 support for families.
“There is no consistency between the local authorities in the way that they source and secure section 17 accommodation and few safeguards to ensure that the chosen housing providers are safe and reputable,” the report said.
Statutory guidance setting out the minimum standards for accommodation provided under section 17 should be set out by government, it added, and children’s services should work closely with housing departments to make sure homes adequately promote a child’s welfare.