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National Homeless Advice Service

Young people’s wishes

As part of the assessment of needs, a local authority should ascertain and give due consideration to the young person’s wishes and feelings regarding the provision of accommodation.

Local authority assessment

As part of the assessment of needs and before providing accommodation under section 20 of the Children Act 1989, local authorities should: [1]

  • ascertain the child’s wishes and feelings regarding the provision of accommodation, and
  • give due consideration (having regard to the child’s age and understanding) to such wishes and feelings of the child as they have been able to ascertain.

This should include assessing the emotional and behavioural development of children/young people and their capacity to make use of wider resources to manage independent living.

However, where young people say they do not wish to be accommodated under section 20, a local authority should reach the conclusion that the young person’s wishes are decisive only as part of an overall judgement of their assessed welfare needs and the type and location of accommodation that will meet those needs.

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Information and advice

The approach to assessment must be child-centred. It is very important that children’s services staff responsible for the assessment are able to communicate the assessment plan to the young person. The young person must be provided with information about the enquiries that need to be made and the timescales involved. A key aspect of the assessment will involve reaching an understanding about how the young person views their needs.

It is essential that the young person is fully consulted about and understands the implications of being accommodated by children’s services and becoming looked after. The staff conducting the assessment must provide realistic and full information about the support that the young person can expect as a looked after child and subsequently as a care leaver.

Children’s services should also ensure that the young person receives accurate information about what assistance may be available to them, including from housing services under Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996, if they do not become looked after, and how any entitlement for assistance under Part 7 is determined. In particular, the possible risk of becoming homeless intentionally in future, and the implications of this for further assistance with accommodation, should be made clear to the young person.

This information should be provided in a ‘child friendly’ format at the start of the assessment process and be available for the young person to take away for full consideration and to help them seek advice.

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Advocacy and support services

Where there is any doubt about a 16 or 17 year old’s capacity to judge what may be in their best interests, for example whether they should become looked after or seek alternative assistance, there must be further discussion involving children’s services, housing services, the young person concerned and their family, to reach agreement on the way forward.

Young people should have access to independent advocacy and support to assist them in weighing up the advantages and disadvantages and coming to a balanced decision. Children’s services should provide information about access to advocacy services when they explain the assessment process to 16 and 17 year olds seeking help because of homelessness.

Some 16 and 17 year olds may decide that they do not wish to be provided with accommodation by children’s services, for example, because they do not wish to be supported as a looked after child. However, in these circumstances, it is important that children’s services are clear that the young person’s decision is properly informed and has been reached after careful consideration of all the relevant information.

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Complying with the duty

The fact that a young person may be reluctant to engage with the assessment process is not in itself a basis for assuming that the young person has rejected any children’s services’ intervention to provide them with accommodation. Lack of cooperation is no reason for the local authority not to attempt to carry out its duties under the Children Act 1989. In these circumstances, the assessment must involve careful recording of how the authority has attempted to engage with the young person to assess their needs in order to determine and provide appropriate services.

Ultimately, however, it is not possible to force services on young people who persistently continue to refuse them. Where a 16 or 17 year old child in need wishes to refuse accommodation offered under section 20 of the 1989 Act, children’s services must be satisfied that the young person:

  • has been provided with all relevant information
  • is competent to make such a decision.

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[1] s.20(6) Children Act 1989.