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National Homeless Advice Service

Action for Children - support for families

The aims of the Centre include helping families to avoid homelessness, retain tenancies and deal with the consequences of living in unsuitable accommodation.

It also aims to maximise family income through assistance with benefits and debt issues.

The project operates an open door policy, which means its services and staff are available to anyone who needs help.



Support

Interventions and support provided by staff at the Centre have considerable positive impacts on both the mental health and overall stability of whole families. This includes preventing repeat homelessness; reducing debt, poverty and disruption to education; and avoiding the loss of family support networks.

The clients who use the Centre include:

  • families who are homeless or are at risk of becoming homelessness
  • families in temporary accommodation in the borough of Westminster or out of borough
  • families in short-term accommodation including those staying with relatives and friends or those in unsuitable private rented accommodation (such as overcrowded housing or housing that is in disrepair)
  • previously homeless families who have been re-housed.

These clients can continue to receive re-settlement support for up to three months after moving out of the area or into local settled accommodation.

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Key statistics

  • an average of 700 families a year are assisted with housing issues including overcrowding, eviction and environmental health issues
  • 88 per cent of clients have at least one child aged between one and five years old
  • most clients receive a service for between seven months and two years
  • although the Centre operates an open door policy, the vast majority of clients are referred to the Centre, including self-referrals because of parental social problems, typically issues around housing
  • practical support is given in almost all cases (94 per cent), with 56 per cent of parents and a fifth of children receiving intensive support
  • 40 per cent of the caseload at the Centre has experienced domestic violence or child protection issues

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Service provision

The Centre provides numerous services and support for children and families including the following:

  • an early intervention schools outreach team. The purpose of this work is to reach families before they get into difficulties such as eviction. Through the school outreach work the Centre can help retain tenancies and prevent children having to leave school, their homes and friends. The Centre currently works with 12 schools, three nurseries and one community setting to carry out this work
  • a weekly homework club where a qualified teacher assists children from overcrowded homes or those living in homeless hotels or hostels. Children in overcrowded accommodation often find it very difficult to complete homework due to lack of space and privacy which can lead to low achievement and low self-esteem
  • an Advice Team that provides a three day a week duty service which offers advice, advocacy and information on welfare benefits and housing. Much of the work is crisis-based and staff are experienced in dealing with emergencies and complex issues around housing
  • an art therapy project which offers emotional and therapeutic support to 5-13 year old children living or attending schools in Westminster, particularly those facing housing difficulties
  • Assistance for families with physical housing needs, for example support to improve a property if it is in disrepair or has a vermin problem
  • the Centre also provides a range of other services including adult learning, counselling, therapeutic services, play activities, wellbeing activities and practical assistance

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Partnership working

The Centre is very experienced in working with local professionals such as the Westminster Primary Care Trust Health Support and Health Improvement Teams, who attend the Centre regularly to assist clients in registering with GPs and enabling them to access mainstream services.

Its advice team works in partnership with Westminster domestic violence forum and other local domestic abuse agencies. All staff have a heightened awareness of the needs of children who have experience or are experiencing domestic violence.

The Centre works closely with Sure Start outreach workers, school liaison workers, social workers and Women’s Trust. Since September 2008 the Centre has benefited from an on-site children’s mental health worker which has developed through a partnership with Paddington Green Children and Adolescents Mental Health Team. The Centre also maintains ongoing partnerships with a number of statutory agencies including Westminster City Council housing, social services, and education departments.

More information is available from Action for Children.

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