Housing issues have become prominent within British society today, economic, population growth and environmental factors have propelled the housing agenda into the public eye. “Social, economic and political factors shape both the demand for, and the supply of, housing. ” (Ward 2003: 143) Many factors can be affected by issues in and around housing, for example housing issues are vital to the stability of people’s everyday lives; a good home can have a positive impact on health, emotional well being, safety, security, educational attainment, childhood-adult aspirations, and income-occupation. All people within society are affected by housing issues, a home is not just bricks and mortar, and it is a place where people relax, rejuvenate, entertain and have a sense of belonging. Poor housing conditions and environment can mean the most basic functions may not occur. If the kitchen and bathroom are unsuitable for example, a basic standard of living can not take place. Other factors such as location, cost and security play significant roles. The housing market itself in Britain is composed of three interrelated tenures, as Balchin and Rhoden suggest, “owner-occupation, private rented accommodation and social rented which includes the local dwindling authority stock, housing association”and other non-profit housing organizations. (Balchin & Rhoden 1998: 50) Local housing markets play a major part in shaping housing careers of young people. “kirk et al have noted how changes in housing policy in the 1980s with the gradual shift towards home ownership, and the decline in the private rented sector in recent years, has worked to the disadvantage of youth”(Biehal et al 1995: 53)
Biehal identified young people as being particularly disadvantaged, when it comes to housing policy. When the new Labour government came to power in 1997 it was important for them to define their attitude on housing policy effecting young people.
“Labour government elected in May 1997 is in the process of defining its stance on a range of social and welfare issues; housing policy is in a state of flux as a consequence of a range of economic, political and cultural forces; and young people are increasingly being defined as a group requiring specific policy interventions.” (Rugg 1999: 1)
The thesis of this paper will be directed towards young people and the experiences faced when dealing with housing issues in early adulthood. Today younger people place more reliance on family for support to aid a successful transition to independent living.
“Young people’s reliance on family support has been extended… the shortage of affordable housing for young people creating a more protracted context for the transition to adulthood”. (Wade and Dixon 2006: 200).
However one group in particular that leave home significantly earlier than their peers and may not have the ideal support required to live in suitable housing are care leavers, this is a group are young adults who where formally “Looked After Children” (LAC). LAC are children who are looked after by the state this could be due to a number of reasons this will depend upon which proceedings the care order emerged from, for example parents who cannot care for them or treat them with neglect (Children act 1989 sec 31). LAC are accommodated in two different settings, children’s residential homes and Foster family set up. The differences between theses setting are essentially, foster families offer care in their own homes, where as in residential care staff are paid to look after children in a setting specially built or acquired for that purpose, both of which under the guidance of the local authority. (Chakrabarti & Hill 1999: 10) Throughout a looked after child’s time in care he or she may move multiple times, the DOH/SSI report in 1996 found that “12 per cent of children had moved more that three times.”Factors relating to this breakdown can be issues concerning birth parents, for example consistency with which they visit the child, agency related factors and child relating factors. The flow of children between residential and foster care is often very high. (Hayden et al 1999: 55-56) suggests that an instability of housing set up in early childhood.
To explore the thesis of the paper the background of care leavers will be addressed specifically focusing on issues around leaving care much earlier than their peers. Linking this therefore to the housing needs this paper will then look at the problems care leavers face, such as homelessness and the different types of housing, options available and future government proposals. There is substantial evidence that LAC and care leavers are being failed by the state as corporate parents, this paper will look at the issues in greater depth.
The housing childhood experiences of LAC in itself has been briefly addressed, as well as that LAC will often have multiple problems and bad experiences of the care process.
“There is extensive evidence that children brought up in care or accommodation have poor developmental outcomes, many of them leaving to face unemployment or to and from part of the prison or homeless population in later life” (Ward and Skuse 2001)
Ward and Skuse highlight the plight of many LAC, multiple factors which clearly affect the outcomes in later life. Therefore it could be argued that there is a clear link between housing and outcomes in life. The long term stability of a placement for LAC may be the factor that can hold the key to a successful transition to adulthood.
At the present moment the legal age in which a LAC may leave care is currently 16, however it is encouraged that they stay in care until 18. After 16, LAC come under the responsibility of the Leaving Care team, however the (Children) Leaving Care Act 2000 requires pathway plans, charting all aspects of the young people’s lives, including accommodation, education, employment, training and health, to be in place by the age of 16. ((Children) Leaving care Act 2000. 23E). The very nature of the title of the “(children) leaving care act”, suggests that “children” are leaving care. It could be suggested that a natural parent would not let a child leave home. The title of the act suggests that the state does not adequately assist in the transformation from childhood to young adult. If this was the case the act should possibly be titled “independent young adults leaving care” rather than “(children) leaving care”.
A study undertaken by Dixon & Wade looking at young people leaving care associated leaving care at 16 or 17 with
“Shorter, more unsettled care careers and was more common for young people exhibiting challenging behaviors, such as offending, running away, substance misuse.”(Dixon & Wade et al 2004: 2)
The study found a link between those who left care early being more likely to be unemployed and therefore less prepared for entry into the world of work. This suggests that more work is needed to help long term placements of LAC succeed. Stability of a home can lead a LAC attending the same school having the same friends thought out their childhood, thus giving a positive impact on their social wellbeing.
At this point it would be appropriate to recognise that there are LAC and care leavers that do go on to achieve success in life, many due to a good stable loving long-term placement which are well supported thus creating a positive impact on a child. Sonia Jackson’s key study “Educational success for children in public care found “Some fortunate children may have a secure base, stable care and continuous relationships” (Jackson 2002: 123) this underlines the importance of stability and a loving home.
“Housing has been identified as critical element of the transition out of care”, (Wade and Dixon 2006:119-208) Wade and Dixon’s further research for York University found that faring well with housing was the factor most closely associated with good mental health. The research carried out is very important as it explores young peoples accelerated and complex transitions to adulthood and suggests three groups that young care leavers are associated with ‘moving on’ ‘survivors’ and ‘victims’. They argue that these three pathways are connected with the quality of care young people receive, the transition from care and the support they receive after care. However evidence suggests that too many young care leavers become the victims of society, much of which are often profoundly associated with housing. It is widely acknowledged that young care leavers comprise a significant sector of the population of young homeless.
Recent research carried out by Rebecca Coombes for the Guardian newspaper suggest that many care leavers will face the harsh reality that homelessness will be experienced soon after leaving the care system
“40% of care-leavers experience homelessness within the first six months of leaving local authority care.”(Coombes 2004)
The department for Schools, Children and Families (DFES) state that there were 8,100 care leavers between March 05 and March 06 (DFES, National Statistics, 2006) Using the figure of homelessness as Coombes suggested, it means that 3,240 care leavers will experience homeless every year, this advocates a chronic problem of housing issues effecting care leavers. Clearly addressing apparent failing within the care system and central to that lies housing issues. A recent report from the Children’s rights director Roger Morgan found that becoming homeless was one of the top ten concerns for young people leaving care (Morgan, 2006)
The team LAC has been clearly identified, however as we have looked at many care leavers facing homelessness it is important to define that term. Often the term is associated with street homelessness, the man begging with a dog for example however it is not as straight forward as that. In its simplest terms homelessness can be defined ‘as an inability to secure regular housing when such housing is desired’ (Marvasti 2003: 22-23) When we look at this issue more closely we can recognise other areas which may be considered as homeless such as people who have no roof over there heads, people who sleep on the streets, subways or abandoned buildings, People in shelters or other transitional housing, such as foyers and hostels, this identifies many forms of homelessness. The legal definition of homelessness in England and Wales was given in the 1996 housing Act According to the law, a person is homeless if:
With many care leavers having bad experiences, which clearly have lead to homelessness it is important to address how and why they may get to this point, it suggests a lack of support by the state the ‘corporate parents’ in dealing with such issues. LAC and care leavers differ from other young people within society as Biehal (1995) suggests there are four main areas in which a care leaver differs from other young people. Primarily, the age in which care leavers move to live independently is far earlier than ‘other young people’, Poor education than that of ‘other young people’, having a detrimental effect on employment. Also young parenthood amongst care leavers is high. (Biehal et al. 1995: 44) this text is a study of leaving care schemes in the UK, it investigated four different leaving care schemes and approaches to leaving care in three local authorities. The study raised key issues around leaving care, such as the ones discussed above.
The age in which LAC are leaving care is of grave concern, care leavers can become unstable and insecure leading to potential homelessness issues. The age in which LAC can legally leave their corporate parents is 16 and many choose to do that. However for a young person in a regular family set up, leaving the home is seen as a gradual process often they may leave and return on a number of occasions (Biehal et al. 1995: 44) “Care leavers are expected to transition directly from childhood dependence to adult self-sufficiency” (Goddard, 2006) This should require local authorities to start independent living programs significantly earlier 13 or 14, or raise the age that LAC can legal leave care. Jim Goddard, secretary of the Care Leavers Association, comments in community care online:
“You wouldn’t do that with other children at that age, it’s ridiculous. You can’t have them leaving at 16, no matter how well prepared they are, and not expect them to struggle.” (Goddard, 2006)
The government have recognised that LAC leave the home far sooner than the rest of the younger people in the UK.
“The average age for leaving home for young people in the population as a whole is 22….. Young people leave the care of local authorities when they are 16 and 17.An increasing proportion of these leave at 16.” (DOH 1999: 7)
Often LAC will have multiple problems, many due to being in care and coming from dysfunctional backgrounds. Leaving care at the age of 16 can be away to escape certain aspects of life, the opportunity to live away on their own, away from people telling them what to do can be an appealing attraction. LAC may feel like they can live independently, and with no law stopping them, only the required support from a leaving care team. Most teenagers can be problematic at the best of times, but a teenager who has the freedom to do as he or she pleases can be hard to manage. Leaving care is often a matter of choice, not knowing how hard independent living can be is possibly a young naïve attitude, which most teenagers would subscribe. The state therefore must address these serious issues, raising the legal age may act as a deterrent. Leaving too early is clearly leading to unsuitable housing outcomes for care leavers.
Other push factors for LAC leaving the system may occur such as placement breakdown, being involved with crime, drugs and alcohol, bullying, family, freedom, and becoming disillusioned with the system. This can arguably have an impact on failing to find suitable housing; the government is clearly not doing enough, as the numbers are still significantly high. A recent report by Rainer an organisation which helps support young people titled ‘home alone’ highlighted ‘structural problems’ as one of the biggest areas effecting care leavers, in particular “one of the biggest faults-lines within the system lies between the housing department and social services” (Rainer 2007) the report goes on to state that there is confusion between the housing department and social services as to what support a young person should receive.
“This can delay or disrupt the planning process and, in the worst cases, can see young people’s applications bounce back and forth between departments” (Rainer, 2007)
Clearly better cohesion between different government departments is needed, this should be made as a priority, LAC will often solely rely upon social services for support.
The issue of unsuitable accommodation needs to be addressed as there can be many factors around this subject. Some accommodation may be fine, however others totally unsuitable. There are a number of set-ups available for care leavers, first the local authority has a duty to provide suitable accommodation for care leavers age 16-18 ((Children) Leaving care Act 2000 section 23)
A ‘pathway planning system’ in place is meant to ensure that when a looked after child reaches a certain age he or she will be ready to live independently. This usually starts three months prior to their sixteenth birthday. The plan will also include “arrangements for education, training, meeting career aspirations, finance, meeting health needs,” ( Every Child Matters, 2007) There are many different types of supported accommodations, for example hostels, foyers, B&Bs, and trainer flats are all used by local authorities. However it could be argued that too many of these places are not the ideal place’s to promote independent living successfully. As we have talked about, many LAC will have multiple problems, often still evident upon leaving care.
The Homelessness Act (2002) placed a duty on local authorities to accept homeless 16 and 17 year olds as a priority for re-housing, however Centrepoint a leading youth homeless charity suggests that “many local authorities have insufficient suitable housing to do this.”consequently many homeless 16 and 17 year olds are housed in unfit B&B accommodation by their local authority. The accommodation is mixed aged and gender and puts vulnerable young people at risk of robbery, assault and emotional and sexual abuse. (Centrepoint, 2006) Living in this kind of accommodation can create a ‘university of crime’, a “spreading knowledge of criminal techniques.” (Rainer 2006: 317) such as behaviour relating to drugs alcohol and crime for example. The immediate housing needs of care leavers are being met within policy, however the longer term need that will help young people tackle their problems and take control of their lives is not. Under the guidance of the pathway plan, there should be a “plan B” in place with the personal adviser, this acts as a backup in case the original plan fails (Knowsley Government: 2007:18-19) A positive for potential homeless care leavers
“as part of the drive to identify better and serve a wider range of vulnerable homeless people, 16 and 17-year olds, and care leavers aged 18 to 20, were added to the priority need groups under the homelessness legislation.” (National Audit office 2005: 54)
The care leavers Act 2000 was meant to tackle the problems faced by 16 and 17-year-olds at risk of drifting into a life of homelessness and crime once they leave a life of residential care and supervision. However this is not good enough, LAC leave home too early as we have identified, a pathway plan starting at 16 is not giving significant time for many young care levers to develop theses skills to survive “out there” Shelter stated in 1999 that the care leavers Act “would be vital in tackling the large numbers of care leavers forced to take to the streets” (Milmo & Von Radowitz 1999)
The government state that they commitment is to end child poverty by 2020 and in green paper of 2003 “every child matters” the main aims where to help development of every child five out comes “be healthy, stay safe, enjoy and achieve, make a positive contribution, achieve economic well being.”(Every child matters sec 10, 2003) as we have recognised housing plays a major role in all five of the proposals. If all these targets could be met then that would help the life chances of LAC no end. The every child matter paper suggests that the government is committed to equality of opportunity for all children, in a sense that every one is born equal.
In terms of future government proposals the Minister for children and families Kevin Brennan has announced the setting up of a pilot programme to look at the alternatives to asking children to leave care at the age of 16 before they are ready to live independently, leaving early being one of the identified problems leading to housing problems and or homelessness. The right to be cared for pilot programme will run for three years, with 11 local authorities taking part. The authorities will explore how the best plan care around the needs of young people and give them a greater say over whether they stay in care until they are 18, or move out into independent flats or hostels (Brennan, 2007). However the issues is that LAC are still leaving too early compared to their peer, the B&Bs and hostels are not working and are often causal factor of homelessness, should the law make young adults stay in care until 18?
The Government state that it is determined to improve the experiences of children in care. There still however remains a significant gap between the quality of life of young people in care and those raised in supportive families. Early childhood experiences have a detrimental effect on the outcomes of a person. The home plays a vital role in the security and wellbeing of any individual, it is clear that to much responsibility is being placed on he shoulders of care leavers compared with their peers. Understanding the needs of young people is essential in planning for real solutions in the avoidance of homelessness.
It is in the government’s best interest to act upon and tackle issues for LAC and care leavers, as long term outcomes are a financial burden on the state and tax payers. Harriet Sergeant’s report titled “handle with care” looks at what happens to people when they leave care and the cost and effects they have on society.
“A successful system of care would transform this country. At a stroke, it would empty a third of our prisons and shift half of all prisoners under the age of 25 out of the criminal justice system. It would halve the number of prostitutes, reduce by between a third and a half the number of homeless and remove 80% of Big Issue sellers from our street corners.” (Sergeant, 2006: 1)
We have shown that many LAC leave their home environment far too soon and not enough is being done to encourage LAC to say in a residential or foster placements. It can be argued that when a LAC leaves care at a young age and faces independent living or living in unsuitable accommodation, the outcomes are considerably worse than there peers. Housing is the key issue confronting the transition of LAC’s into the wider community. The lack of stability in the accommodation of LACs mirrors itself in their own instability.
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