Vulnerable teenager given tent to live in by local council

Council failed to offer him suitable accommodation, watchdog reveals

Clea Skopeliti
Thursday 10 December 2020 12:31 GMT
The teenager was known to have problems with his mental health and drug use
The teenager was known to have problems with his mental health and drug use (Getty Images)

A vulnerable teenager was given a tent to live in by the council after becoming homeless, a watchdog has revealed in a devastating report highlighting several cases in which children in care have been failed.

The 17-year-old, named only as Billy, was offered shelter far away from where he normally lived after being thrown out of accommodation he shared with his father.

The teenager, who was known to local children’s services as having mental health and drug use issues, refused the offer. Instead of finding him accommodation more locally, the council gave him a tent in which to sleep.

His mental and physical health worsened during this trying period and he was later sectioned under the Mental Health Act 1983.

Ombudsman Michael King said even one case like this was too many, and called on councils to ask: "Would this decision be good enough for my child?"

The teenager’s case is one of many stories underlined in the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s report. The report does not name individual councils but seeks to facilitate remedies to the individuals impacted as well as provide recommendations for how local authorities should work with children in challenging circumstances.

The council awarded Billy £2,500 for the distress they caused and for putting him at risk.

The report also calls attention to the case of a young man learning years later after his mother’s death that he might have been deprived of his chance to say goodbye to her. It also looks at the story of a young woman who returned to her foster home to find her bags packed and was asked to leave the same day.

An increasing number of children are being taken into the system, with 28 per cent more children in care in 2019 than 2009.

Mr King, the ombudsman, said: “Each case highlighted in this report is a case too many, and reflects the real life experiences of some of the most vulnerable in our society.

“I am issuing this report so councils providing children’s services can use the learning and reflect on their procedures and processes. At every turn, I invite them to ask themselves, ‘would this be good enough for my child?'”

The report comes as government statistics showed that the number children adopted from care in England is down by more than a third compared to five years ago, even as the number of looked after children increases.

The number of looked after children who were adopted dropped to 3,440 in the year leading up to the end of March, down from a peak of 5,360 in 2015, according to figures from the Department of Education.

National charity Adoption UK expressed concerns that the trend will only be exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

 Sue Armstrong Brown, the charity’s chief executive, said: "This continuing downward trajectory is very worrying. It does not bode well for next year's figures, which will undoubtedly be exacerbated by the pandemic.

"The fall out from the pandemic, particularly lockdown, will almost certainly lead to an increase in the number of children in local authority care. This, coupled with delays to the courts – which have seen adoptions being held up – is thwarting efforts to find homes for vulnerable children.”

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