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Homeless teenager turned away by local authority

Local Government Ombudsmen finds that Doncaster MBC failed to carry out safeguarding enquiries

A Yorkshire teenager, who claimed she was being physically and emotionally abused by her father, was turned away by Doncaster children's services when she asked for help and told to return home.

An investigation by the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) found that Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council should have carried out safeguarding enquiries. Without an initial assessment, the council never considered the girl's health and welfare, education and housing needs before coming to its decision, and could not have said that she was not at risk of harm if she returned home.

The 17-year-old had found refuge with her boyfriend's family in the town. When her father allegedly threatened to burn down her boyfriend's house, the girl sought help from the council. Despite telling social workers that her father was "extremely controlling" and that he had been physically abusive towards her since she was nine, social workers there told her they would not help – and without conducting any assessment of her situation, suggested she return to the family home and gave her £50 for the travel costs.

Although it is the responsibility of the authority in which a young person presents themselves as homeless to assess their needs, regardless of where they come from, the Doncaster social workers did not help the girl because they wrongly thought she was not their responsibility. Officers from North Yorkshire said they would investigate any safeguarding allegations relating to the girl's siblings, but said the girl was Doncaster's responsibility as this was where she asked for help. But Doncaster's officers disagreed and did not assess the teenager's situation.

The girl still lives with her boyfriend's family, but has not had contact with her siblings since. Additionally, when the teenager complained to the council, officers did not respond to her complaint.

Dr Jane Martin, Local Government Ombudsman, said:

"I am concerned that a vulnerable young girl, who has repeatedly asked for help from Doncaster council, has been told at every turn that she is 'not their responsibility.

"The law is clear on this, a child does not have to be 'ordinarily resident' in a council's area – and Doncaster council should have assessed the girl's situation when she came to them and presented as homeless.
"I hope this case reminds other councils of their legal position when considering children in need who are from outside their area."

To remedy the situation, Doncaster council has agreed to apologise to the teenager for failing to assess her as a 'child in need' and for failing to take appropriate action. It will also pay the girl £500 to acknowledge the distress it caused to her and for the unnecessary risk it placed her in by not providing her with accommodation when she was homeless and most likely a 'child in need'. It will also pay a further £100 for failure to deal with her complaint.

The council will also review its 'Joint Protocol for Young People aged 16 to 17 Years in Housing Need' within the next three months.