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National Homeless Advice Service

Living with friends and extended family

Many young people facing homelessness will seek help from their own family and peer networks. This page considers how additional support and help could be offered to family and friend networks to allow young people to remain there safely.

Where the stay with friends or family is an informal arrangement a child will not be a ‘looked-after’ child. However, where Children’s Services place a child with friends or extended family because the parent is not able to provide suitable care, that child will be ‘looked-after’. In this latter situation the child will be entitled to ‘leaving care’ duties and homelessness assistance in certain situations. See the page Local authority duties to care leavers in the Care leavers section for more information.

This page does not consider other options such as foster care, residence orders or special guardianship orders. For more information, see the government’s Guidance on family and friends care.

The legal background to friends and family care

Section 17

If asked to do so, a local authority may undertake an assessment to see if a young person who has moved in with friends or family is ‘in need’ as defined by section 17 of the Children Act 1989. See Who is a child in need for more information. Where appropriate, the local authority can then provide support (including financial) to such an arrangement.

Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 imposes a general duty on the local authority to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and young people ‘in need’ within their area. This can include supporting the upbringing of such children by their families, in particular by providing a range of family support services. In this context, ‘family’ means not only the person who has parental responsibility for a young person, but also any other relative, friend or other person who does not have parental responsibility but does have a prior connection with a young person, and with whom the young person is now living.

The local authority therefore has the discretionary powers to provide family support services in order to enable friends and family to meet the needs of the children they care for. This can include practical support, but may simply be advice, guidance or counselling about how to manage issues arising from having the young person stay with them.

The local authority can also provide (discretionary) financial and other assistance. This can be provided on a regular basis - there do not need to be exceptional circumstances.

Any support that is offered will stop when the young person reaches the age of 18, unless they meet the criteria for support from adult services.

If the arrangement breaks down

If an informal arrangement breaks down and the young person is a ‘child in need’, the local authority will have a duty to secure alternative accommodation under section 20 of the Children Act 1989.

See social services duties to 16 and 17 year olds for more information.

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Informal arrangements and practical support

The young person’s stay with friends or extended family may have been unplanned and started as a result of crisis. Alternatively, it may have resulted from mediation and family conferencing. Regardless of how it happened, many young people and their host families will require support to make the stay successful.

Local authorities may be able to provide support in the following areas:

  • financial help
  • practical help with transport if the young person who to travel to education or training
  • information and advice on benefits and legal issues
  • additional educational support if the young person’s education has been disrupted
  • access for the young person to specialised services such as counselling and other mental health services

In particular, the friends and family of a young person may not be experienced in looking after teenagers, or aware of local facilities and services for them. Local authorities should ensure carers are provided with information about schools and colleges, training opportunities, health services, leisure facilities and youth support services.

Financial assistance

The sudden arrival of a young person may cause a carer significant financial difficulties.

Carers may be able to claim child benefit and child tax credit, if they are not being paid by the parent(s). Additionally, discretionary funding may be able - the local authority should provide appropriate guidance on this. Financial assistance may be available, for example, for one-off expenditure, such as bedroom furniture.

Local authorities also have the power under Section 17 to give financial support towards accommodation costs, if it is the most appropriate way to safeguard and promote a young person’s welfare.

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