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Cornwall Council leaves homeless teenager in a tent

Ombudsman finds failings in council’s planning for young, homeless people

Cornwall Council made a host of significant failings when it accommodated a vulnerable 17 year-old boy in a tent and caravan over a summer, a Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman investigation has found.

The boy spent five weeks in a tent, four weeks in a static caravan and several nights sleeping rough after approaching the council for help. Following his ordeal, he was left emaciated and was detained in a psychiatric hospital for 11 months.

The Ombudsman's report found on numerous occasions the council, provided accommodation that was inappropriate, it didn't properly assess the boy's ability to make decisions about his own safety, and didn't do enough to protect him from sexual exploitation or ill health.

The Ombudsman took account of the council's specific duties in respect of children in need. The Ombudsman noted that statutory guidance published in 2010 (updated in 2018) lays out the duties of housing and children's services departments to work together to ensure 16 and 17 year-olds are not left on the streets. The 2010 guidance states that bed and breakfast accommodation is never suitable and councils should ensure they have a sufficient supply of accommodation options for homeless young people. This guidance also states at 3.41:

"Where a young person says they do not wish to be accommodated, a local authority should reach the conclusion that the young person's wishes are decisive only as part of an overall judgement of their assessed welfare needs and the type and location of accommodation that will meet those needs."

Throughout the Ombudsman's report, evidence suggests the council tried to place responsibility for the situation on the boy, because of his actions, rather than provide the right support to a vulnerable child who was suffering from drug addiction and mental ill health.

The investigation also found the council didn't properly plan for having enough accommodation for young homeless people, and didn't coordinate well with other local services such as mental health.

In this case the Ombudsman determined that the council should pay the, now young man, £2,500 for the effects of its actions on his mental health, lost opportunities and placing him at risk. It should pay the boy's mother £1,500 for the severe distress and frustration it caused.

The Ombudsman also recommended that the council should review its policies to ensure its procedures for accommodating 16 and 17 year-olds comply with statutory guidance, and ensures it properly considers whether the wishes of young people are rational if they refuse accommodation. It should also draw up an action plan to ensure there is sufficient accommodation for homeless young people. It should train staff working with homeless young people on the right accommodation to provide, and how to properly record instances of safeguarding referrals.

For the report, click here and then click on the link to the report itself.