Once the initial or core assessment has been completed, both Children’s Services and the housing options teams should have enough information to talk to the young person again.
This discussion should clearly set out the statutory duties owed to them under both the Children Act 1989 and the Housing Act 1996. It should also present a coherent range of options for accommodation and support which will assist the young person in overcoming obstacles and making a safe transition to independent adult life.
A coherent approach is clearly more easily achieved:
Where a dispersed model is used, it should not be left to chance or to the initiative of individual officers. Regular reviews of the joint protocol, partnership working arrangements and young people’s outcomes from the enquiry and assessment process will usually be necessary. Joint training for staff is likely to needed, as well as consistent professional leadership.
The young person and their family may benefit from independent and impartial advice on considering their options at this stage. Decisions made at this point will affect their future opportunities for support and training, a stable housing situation, and their personal finances.
Few local authorities commission a specific service for this purpose. However, partner agencies who might find themselves in this position of confidence with the young person should be involved in training and updates on the operation of the local joint protocol.
Such agencies could include:
Another option could be to signpost the young person to the National Youth Advocacy Service.
Getting the involvement of a trusted person who can offer impartial advice to the young person is something that Children’s Services and Housing Options staff should remain alert to. This can be a necessary course of action in some cases, and can often have a positive impact on the young person’s outcome by helping the choose the best option for their circumstances.
Every young person’s circumstances are different, and it is possible that a young person may be found not to be a child in need, nor to be homeless and eligible for assistance under the Housing Act 1996.
If the young person is already occupying short-stay accommodation, existing guidance says that they can be given a reasonable period of notice to vacate, along with advice on their options.
More usually however, such a situation arises not because the young person is not in need of assistance, but because they have not engaged positively with the assessment and options process. They may have misled social workers about their circumstances or vulnerability and/or lost their accommodation through their own actions. This can lead to a determination of intentional homelessness.
It is important to make sure that young people in this situation do not slip from view. Here, youth services hub models offer an advantage because they have an established ongoing relationship with them.
While there is a greater risk in dispersed service models of young people falling ‘off the radar’, this can be mitigated by carrying out regular joint reviews of known cases, regardless of the young person’s status under the legislation.