More and more children as young as 16 are being housed alone in bed and breakfast rooms, bedsits and even caravans by local authorities that are struggling to cope with rising numbers of youngsters in the care system. An investigation by the Observer and BBC 5 Live has established that there has been a 28%…
More and more children as young as 16 are being housed alone in bed and breakfast rooms, bedsits and even caravans by local authorities that are struggling to cope with rising numbers of youngsters in the care system.
An investigation by the Observer and BBC 5 Live has established that there has been a 28% increase in the number of under-18s placed by councils in so-called independent living accommodation, which lacks live-in staff support and includes unsupervised B&Bs, over the past eight years.
Figures – partly obtained from the Department for Education under Freedom of Information Act rules – reveal that the number of looked-after children placed in independent living arrangements by English local authorities rose from 2,420 in 2010 to 3,090 in 2018. In Wales, the figure went from 75 to 130 in the same period, a rise of 73%.
While some independent living arrangements with dedicated social-work support are appropriate for those aged under 18, other types, such as B&Bs, are prohibited by statutory guidance because they are deemed too risky.
In October, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman found that Cornwall council had failed to provide appropriate accommodation to a 17-year-old boy, who was placed in a tent, a static caravan and B&Bs in 2016.
FOI requests reveal that four local authorities have placed up to 14 children in caravan parks and 17 councils have placed up to 133 children in B&Bs over the past two years.
“Daisy” was only 16 when a social worker gave her £4 for her dinner and took her to a dingy B&B around the corner from Plymouth town hall. “I was only meant to be there for the weekend and I actually didn’t come out for 19 weeks,” she said.
She had to share the B&B’s often filthy toilets with a group of young men, a couple and a much older man. “I wouldn’t go to the toilets at night because I was in a house full of boys,” Daisy said.
“One of the blokes grabbed my ass as I walked up the stairs. He was like, ‘All right, sexy’. I’m just 16. I’ve only just moved in. I ran up to my room.”
Daisy, who is now 19, started drinking and taking drugs to fit in. “I was taking legal highs every single day. I was drinking. I was around men who were 28 and I was only 16. That’s not normal,” she said. “I came out in an awful way, a very damaged girl.”
Her only contact with social services came when she picked up her weekly allowance from the town hall: “We’d get to social at eight, pick up the money, leave and not hear anything.”
Louise King from the Children’s Rights Alliance for England, who has worked closely with Daisy, says she was left at risk of sexual exploitation as well as of drug and alcohol abuse.
“A lot of young people are too vulnerable to be left in independent accommodation,” she said. “We are coming across worse conditions in more and more concerning types of accommodation, such as B&Bs and caravan parks.”
Plymouth city council said it was hard to find suitable placements for older teenagers: “Sadly, there is a national shortage of foster placements willing to take 16- to 18-year-old young people, which limits the options available to local authorities.”
Although social services are meant to assess and, in most cases, care for homeless teenagers, some authorities are placing under-18s in B&Bs and adult hostels without any checks or support.
The Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, said she would be investigating the housing of vulnerable children this year. “None of us would choose for our own children to live alone in caravan parks, B&Bs or adult hostels, yet I often hear from young people in care who have been dumped into substandard housing under the guise of ‘independent living’,” she said.
Children and families minister Nadhim Zahawi said: “The law is clear that local authorities must provide accommodation that meets children’s needs. This includes making sure the child has appropriate supervision while in that accommodation.”
‘There were needles everywhere, noise, violence, police’
Dan became homeless at 16 and went to Newport council for help. He was placed in a “scary and intense” B&B in the Welsh city for two nights before being moved to a large adult hostel for six weeks, where he was surrounded by much older drug and alcohol users.
“It was awful. Very dingy. The bathroom was disgusting, there were needles all over the place, drug-user needles,” he said. “There was a lot of noise, violence, police coming back and forth constantly.”
He had nowhere to wash his clothes or to shower. to just fold the dirty clothes away, wear some new ones, put them back on.,” he said. “I couldn’t even use the showers. I had to go to the leisure centre every weekend to use the showers.”
No one from the council or social services, he said, came to see him while he was at the hostel. “I was just scared. I didn’t know what to do.” he said.
Newport Ccity Ccouncil said it was reviewing its procedures as a result of Dan’s case. It said it should have supported him sooner than it did. “However, given the demands on suitable accommodation for individuals and families with young children who present as homeless, it is unlikely that the outcomes for Daniel in that emergency period after he came to the council for help would have been any different,” said a spokesperson.
‘It was dog-rotten and filthy. I felt unsafe there’
Samantha Alderson, now 22, says she was placed in a B&B by Darlington council when she was 16. “I was there about a month before my mum broke the rules and made me return home. “It was absolutely dog-rotten. The facilities had to be shared. The shower was black with muck and limescale. I used the toilet one morning and there wasn’t even a lock on the toilet door. It made me feel unsafe.
“I wouldn’t even sleep on the bed. I’d stay awake most of the time because the sheets were filthy dirty. They had been burnt with cigarettes. I ‘d rather have slept on a park bench.
“It was full of alcoholics and drug-users. They were much older than me. They were drinking outside the premises. They’d be smoking joints and that. You would hear them arguing. There was a fight outside. Four cop cars turned up and it was broken up.
“I didn’t use to return until late because I didn’t want to be around them. I had to get myself to college. I had to do everything on my own. I didn’t have any support from social services.
“If my mum hadn’t of been there, I would probably be in prison or I would have got in with the wrong crowd and gone down the addiction route.”
Darlington council said her case was concerning: “We no longer use B&Bs as accommodation for young people in our care and have not done so for a number of years.”