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Opinion

Personal views on current Child and Youth Care affairs

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UK

Vulnerable young people need help before they lose their home, not after

People who become homeless at a young age are more likely to experience severe and multiple disadvantage such as poverty, substance misuse issues and mental health problems later in life. They need support before, rather than after, their families have reached crisis point.

Our sixth Homeless Link Young and Homeless study shows that a breakdown in family relationships continues to be the leading cause of youth homelessness, but that all too often support comes too late.

Overcrowding, unemployment, financial difficulties and illness of a family member were identified by young people as key factors in contributing to relationship tensions and eventual breakdown.

Many young people told us that early support services such as mediation or respite options had not been provided. What’s more, interventions were often reactive, offered only after a young person became homeless or a relationship had already broken down.

One young person told us their family was offered mediation. “But it was too late to start trying things like that. It was when I was going into care.” Another said service providers should have intervened earlier – and given more family support. “I think they should have done stuff with my mum too, not just the kid all the time.”

Our research shows significant variation in the quality and availability of prevention initiatives in England. Young people felt that learning about life skills, healthy relationships and mental wellbeing while at school was the most important prevention initiative.

But while advice and signposting to appropriate services are provided in most of the local authorities that responded, only 47% deliver education in schools and 57% carry out home visits. Worryingly, 37% of local authorities felt they had an inadequate range of tools to prevent youth homelessness.

The Homelessness Reduction Act, which places a legal duty on councils to support homeless people, is an important step in the right direction, away from the present legal focus on helping people when they are already homeless.

But many of the young people we interviewed said the problems contributing to their homelessness began in childhood and adolescence, underlining a need for much earlier intervention. In a challenging context of financial constraints and high levels of demand, early help is proving particularly difficult for local authorities to provide.

Research shows who at highest risk of homelessness, including care leavers, LGBTQ+ young people, those growing up in deprivation and those with poor educational experiences. This information should be used to identify and effectively focus support for those most at risk of homelessness. Only by adopting a proactive approach can we prevent youth homelessness to ensure the best possible outcomes for vulnerable young people.

By Jennifer Harris

15 May 2018 

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