Cornwall council puts ‘vulnerable’ teenager in tent after he became homeless

The 17-year-old had a history of cannabis use and suffered mental health problems

Tuesday 30 October 2018 14:19
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The case comes amid a staggering rise in homelessness across the UK
The case comes amid a staggering rise in homelessness across the UK

A homeless 17-year-old boy was bought a tent to live in by a social worker after he appealed for help from his local council, a watchdog has found.

The teenager, who has not been identified, was even provided with a replacement tent after the first one started leaking.

After approaching Cornwall Council for help, the boy had to live in a tent for five weeks, then a static caravan for four weeks and also spent several nights sleeping rough.

Following “numerous failings” from the council, the teenager, who had a history of cannabis use and suffered mental health problems, was left emaciated and was detained in a psychiatric hospital for 11 months.

An investigation by the local government and social care ombudsman found the council had failed to protect the “vulnerable” teenager.

He was initially arrested for drug dealing, then not allowed to return to live with his father and the council housed him in supported accommodation in another town.

He was evicted from this placement for breaching conditions of his stay and became homeless.

The boy refused an offer from the council of supported accommodation 30 miles away from the area he knew.

A social worker then bought the boy a tent and helped him pitch it.

Council records show the boy’s mother, who lived a long way from Cornwall, challenged the decision to place her son in a tent.

The council said no other options were available because the boy did not want to go into care.

They asked the mother whether she could accommodate her son but she could not do so because of the risk to the other children she fostered.

Over the coming weeks the boy asked the council for accommodation on several occasions.

It also received two calls about his welfare, once after he had been found in an abandoned building having set fire to a mattress to keep warm.

After being moved to a static caravan, the teenager reported being sexually assaulted by a man in a car. There is no evidence that the council considered any action to protect the boy following this report.

Around a month later, the council moved the boy to bed and breakfast accommodation, which is against government guidance for housing teenagers.

Shortly after he was moved to appropriate supported accommodation and two weeks later he was detained under the Mental Health Act, which lasted for 11 months.

Michael King, the local government and social care ombudsman, said: “There is a long list of failures in this case which had dreadful consequences for the boy.

“But the starkest, and most worrying, element is the attitude shown towards his situation.

“I would have expected an unequivocal response that it was simply wrong to accommodate the boy in this manner.

“It is true the boy in this case showed difficult behaviours. However, this is exactly why the Children Act exists – to support the most vulnerable in our society – and councils should not apportion blame when help is needed.”

The ombudsman ordered that the council pay the teenager £2,500 and his mother £1,500.

A Cornwall Council spokesman said: “Cornwall Council accepts the report of the local government and social care ombudsman and findings.

“There were several shortfalls in the response of the council to the situation the teenager was in between August to October 2016.

“We have apologised to the teenager and to his mother for those failings. We take on board the recommendations of the ombudsman.

“Although this was a unique and exceptional case, we will learn from it and do everything we can to prevent it ever happening again.”

Agencies contributed to this report

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