Several different teams or agencies may be involved with young people aged 16 or 17 who are homeless, and/or owe a duty to them.
These can include voluntary agencies, youth services, Children’s Social Services and Housing Departments. Consistent messages and effective joint working are essential if young people in crisis are to get the assistance they need in a timely and supportive way.
Young people are legally classed as children until they reach the age of 18. As recently reinforced by G vs Southwark, local authorities who deliver social and housing services must, by law, consider the needs of young people aged 16 or 17 first and foremost under the Children Act 1989.
It also recognises that young people of this age who are homeless are extremely likely to be ‘children in need’ under the provisions of the Act. At the same time, a local housing authority may have a duty to offer assistance to a young person who is 16 or 17 and is homeless, or is threatened with homelessness.
The need for joint protocols is made clear in the DCLG guidance:
It is therefore essential that services for homeless 16 and 17 year olds are underpinned by written joint protocols which set out clear, practical arrangements for providing services that are centred on young people and their families and prevent young people from being passed from pillar to post. (Joint working between housing and children’s services: preventing homelessness, DCLG 2008).
Since the guidance was issued in 2010, almost all local authorities have prepared joint protocols for responding to 16 and 17 year olds who present themselves as homeless.
In the case of two tier authorities, joint protocols are typically signed up to by all the housing authorities within the county, as well as the county council’s Children’s Services.
The best examples of these protocols provide a clear statement of shared priorities and strategy towards such young people. They not only set out the responsibilities and procedures for each agency involved, but also establish a clear structure for preventative work.
For a joint protocol to work at a practical level, it has to be backed up by effective training for all teams and agencies involved.
It is vital to constantly monitor how the protocol is working, so that any problems can be identified and addressed.