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National Homeless Advice Service

Respites and short breaks: giving everyone a break

Respites and short breaks offer the opportunity for a break at a time of crisis, helping to prevent a permanent family breakdown. During the time away from home, the young person and their family can participate in family mediation.

It can also be used for an emergency one or two nights stay for young people who are unable to return home in the short term.

The use of respite care does not mean a young person can’t go home. Indeed, the very nature of respite - temporary support at times of crisis - lends itself to encouraging a return to the family home.

In choosing where to place a young person who is temporarily homeless, local authorities have a responsibility to safeguard children and young people, and it is essential that young people facing homelessness are placed in suitable accommodation. Unsuitable accommodation can be challenged.

Supported emergency placements

Short term and respite accommodation gives a young person breathing space. Meanwhile, arrangements can be made for mediation and the family can be offered support to help avoid the situation deteriorating any further. This may result in the young person successfully returning to the family house, and avoiding homelessness.

Short term placements can also allow time to find a sustainable long term solution for the young person.

There are different types of supported emergency placements for young people who need a short time away from home:

  • respite accommodation can be provided in the home of a volunteer host family (for example the ‘Nightstop’ model): this is usually for one or two nights, but can be up to two weeks (and indeed in some local authorities hosts may offer a room for up to 6 weeks).
  • crash pads are short term, emergency accommodation schemes. This type of accommodation can be provided in supported lodgings or may be a dedicated bed space in a hostel or housing project. Some Crashpads are available for up to 6 weeks.

Example: M3 - Emergency lodgings for young people

Example: Herts Young Homeless - Nightstop Herts

Example: Barnardos - Supported lodgings and crashpads

For more information on respite and short-term accommodation, see the section emergency housing options.

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Services to support young people and families

While in respite accommodation, young people should be offered access to early prevention and intervention opportunities with the aim, where appropriate, of helping them to return to the family home - see the section on exploring all the options for further details.

If a young person does return to the family home, support should be available to enable them to live there and to help avoid future crises - see the section on returning to the family home for more information.

Example: Plymouth Council - Support for parents and families

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Short breaks and local authority duties under the Children Act 1989

Short breaks can be provided by local authorities either through Section 17 of the Children Act, (the power to provide accommodation as part of a range of services in order to discharge their general duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of the children in need) or under Section 20 (the power to provide accommodation for any child within their area if they consider that to do so would safeguard or promote the child’s welfare).

Young people who receive a short break under Section 17 do not become ‘looked after’ children within the meaning of the Children Act.

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