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Young People Leaving Care (Accommodation)

Volume 489: debated on Wednesday 18 March 2009

Motion for leave to introduce a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for minimum standards in respect of accommodation for young people leaving care; to impose a duty on local authorities to ensure that such standards are met; and for connected purposes.

This Government have made massive progress in bringing in legislation to protect children and they have given a special focus to identifying and supporting children who are at risk of harm. The Children and Young Persons Act 2008 includes radical measures to improve the experience of young people in care, to deliver high-quality corporate parenting, to listen and respond to young people, to bring stability and continuity into every aspect of child care and, perhaps most of all, to create an uncompromising culture of high aspirations.

The Bill supports the high aspirations of the Children and Young Persons Act 2008. When a young person’s accommodation is changed from a placement in a regulated setting—that is, a children’s home or foster placement—to one that the Act refers to as “other arrangements” that are not regulated under the Care Standards Act 2000, the Bill will ensure that statutory minimum standards are in place to determine whether such accommodation is suitable.

It has been suggested that this Bill is not necessary because the regulations and guidance relating to the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 already place a general duty on local authorities to ensure that they provide suitable accommodation to care leavers. Certainly, a number of local authorities have developed exemplary good practice in supporting care leavers, including minimum standards to determine suitability, which they apply locally. The current framework should ensure that all care leavers are being placed in suitable accommodation that adequately meets their needs. In fact, however, the evidence from care leavers themselves and their care workers shows that in far too many cases it is not working. If the guidance from 2001 is not yet working and vulnerable young people are being placed at risk, we must conclude that a step change is needed—and it is needed now.

The National Care Advisory Service reports that 10 per cent. of care leavers feel unsafe and 44 per cent. worry about their safety. The Rainer “Home Alone” report gives case studies of the actual experience of young care leavers, so I shall cite some. For example, it states:

“There are serious problems with drug use amongst the other tenants. It’s hard for Dan as he’s struggled with that in the past and is trying to move away from it”.

In another case, it is stated:

“The room was on the very top floor, up a few flights of steps. It’s really difficult to manage every day with a young daughter and a buggy. There were no cooking facilities, no food allowed in the room.”

In another case:

“There were large amounts of rubbish and discarded food, with flies everywhere.”

In another:

“He felt uncomfortable even using the bathroom to wash. An older resident made inappropriate sexual advances to him and he still received no support. Eventually he was moved after being found unconscious in his room.”

Furthermore:

“There was frequent harassment and discrimination from other tenants. The worst example saw her burgled and her pets were killed”—

and this relates to a girl who left care aged 16 after six and a half years as a looked-after child.

These are further cases:

“She’s 25 miles away from all of her support networks, including the leaving care team and her social worker. She doesn’t know anyone in the local area so she feels very isolated”;

“He couldn’t sustain the training placement that he’d won because of where he moved to and the distance involved”;

“The local housing department wouldn’t let Paul bid on a property until he reached 18 but he had to move out of his ‘moving on flat’ before his 18th birthday. So he had to move into temporary accommodation—a hostel—while they sorted things out. This was a major backwards step for someone who was doing well at living independently. The hostel was also in a different town which jeopardised his employment”.

In his 2006 report on young people’s views on leaving care, the children’s rights director says:

“Young people spoke of having to wait months or longer, in local bed and breakfast accommodation, before the promised flat became available. A number of young people raised concerns about whether accommodation arrangements for care leavers are always sufficient to keep them safe from harm. Young people reported that they are given flats that are unclean and situated in bad areas”.

He also said:

“Many were keen to make the point that their accommodation was filthy and that they did not feel particularly safe or secure. Other young people expressed concern at what they described as being forced to share residence with adults and other young people who they said they would never have been allowed to mix with whilst in care”.

More recently, the experiences described to the associate parliamentary group on looked-after children and care leavers confirm that far too many young people are still being moved from care into unsuitable accommodation.

Part of the problem seems to be that what constitutes “suitable accommodation” in relation to care leavers is not described in any detail. By comparison, the “fitness of premises” requirements for children’s homes under the Children’s Homes Regulations 2001, issued under the Care Standards Act 2000, give detailed specifications that accommodation must be the following: adequately lit, heated and ventilated; secure from unauthorised access; of sound construction and kept in good order; equipped with what is reasonably necessary and adapted as necessary in order to meet the needs arising from the disability of any disabled child.

Under those regulations, there must also be conditions of appropriate privacy and sufficient washing and toilet facilities; sufficient and suitable kitchen equipment; adequate facilities for the preparation and storage of food; adequate facilities for laundering linen and clothing; space for sitting, recreation and dining and for private study; sleeping accommodation that is suitable for needs, including for privacy; and appropriate furniture, storage facilities, lighting, bedding and other furnishings, including suitable window and floor coverings. Furthermore, premises may not be used for the purpose of a children’s home unless they are in a location and of a physical design and layout suitable for the purpose of achieving the aims and objectives set out in the homes statement of purpose. Children’s homes are also inspected to ensure they meet these and other standards. Once a young person leaves a home or foster care to live in other accommodation, however, the guidance of suitability becomes extremely broad-brush, and there is no independent inspection.

The purpose of the Bill is to sort out those problems by providing clear, simple minimum guidance—nothing bureaucratic or over-sophisticated, just the sort of simple guidelines that any decent responsible parent would ensure were in place for their child if they were looking for suitable accommodation. A lot of the work to identify standards has already been done—for example, with student accommodation where national codes of practice have been agreed, covering transparency of charges, responsibility for repairs, health and safety requirements, security, environmental standards and tenant relations. All should be specified in detail and there should be a requirement that contracts for tenancies are fair.

Foyers, which supports more than 10,000 young people each year—16 to 25-year-olds in housing need—has a lot of experience in this area. The Foyer Federation has developed an accreditation process with quality standards to ensure that accommodation is affordable accessible, safe, well maintained and appropriate to needs, and meets the needs for independence, privacy and dignity, security and health and safety.

The majority of young people choose when to leave home—perhaps to go to college or university, to take up a job or to move in with friends or a partner. Most of them decide when they want to leave and have a support network to back them up, and family to help them out and a home to go back to if they want. The average age at which people leave home is 24, but young people leaving care are more likely to be vulnerable and without access to family support. They are more likely to leave at a much earlier age. Last year, 24 per cent. of care leavers left care at 16, and 15 per cent. left at 17. They often have to face a huge number of changes all at once, and all too often have to deal with them without any support or help from a family, and they have nowhere to go back to if things do not work out for them.

With just a small effort from this House—it is a corporate parent and has a duty of care to these young people—we could make a huge difference to outcomes. We have to make sure these young people have accommodation and support that is suitable for them and meets their needs. We need this Bill, so I ask the House to take it forward.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Helen Southworth, Ann Coffey, Dan Norris, Mr. Barry Sheerman, Mr. David Kidney, Rosemary McKenna, Mr. Kevin Barron, Derek Twigg, Hilary Armstrong, Mr. Mike Hall, John Bercow and Annette Brooke present the Bill.

Helen Southworth accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 19 June and to be printed (Bill 77).

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. We are about to have a major debate on the economy. At 12 noon today, the Treasury published Lord Turner’s report on the causes of the current problems in the economy. As of three minutes ago, the report is not available in the Vote Office. It strikes me as outrageous that the Treasury has not made arrangements to let us know what is going on in its policy formulation.

The right hon. Gentleman’s point will have been heard by Members on the Treasury Bench, and no doubt arrangements to make the report available are now in hand.