A Monday in the life of Leila, Community Advocate for Looked After Children & Care Leavers
I have lots of calls to make today so I know it’s going to be a busy day.
Before I get stuck in I receive a call from James: he’s 18 and slept rough last night. He’s living with a friend of a friend but doesn’t have a key so is locked out when they are not home. We arrange to meet straight away as his case is urgent and he finds it much easier communicating face to face. James wants to live with his old foster carer (under the ‘staying put’ policy) until he moves permanently into a flat. He feels like they are being unfair, that he has kept to his side of the bargain (by keeping out of trouble and getting a very competitive apprenticeship) and they aren’t doing what they said they would. I will remind the Local Authority (LA) of plans they agreed with James before he turned 18 and their duty to make sure he is in suitable accommodation. Because he’s homeless there is no time to make a complaint so we will look to take legal action; we filled out legal aid forms so he can access legal support.
I call Hassan (23) to finalise a complaint we’ve been working on. He wants to go back to education and is entitled to support with this. He told his LA but didn’t hear from them for 3 months. After we submitted a complaint they said he should come in and speak to a duty worker. They also said he would need an identified course before they could support him – which is not the case. Hassan is worried that a duty worker will not have enough time to go through it all and wants to speak with his old PA to create a pathway plan. We outlined this in the response we sent off.
I call Karolina (13) for an update. She loves her foster placement but when her new social worker started asking lots of questions about the placement she became worried that they wanted to move her. I helped her write a letter explaining how the questions had made her feel. Karolina read me the response over the phone. Her social worker had explained that there weren’t any plans to move her and that it was part of her job to make sure she knew how Karolina felt at the placement. The letter was written in very child-friendly language and had been addressed to Karolina. We agreed that I would support her at her next LAC review although I feel that in time Karolina will be able to chair her own LAC reviews.
In the afternoon I meet with Andrew who made a complaint about the lack of support he received when he was homeless. He is in supported housing and now has the correct care status and also received some compensation as part of his complaint response. I helped him to access immigration advice and we agreed that he did not need advocacy help any longer because his issues were resolved. He said, “I feel more motivated to help myself since having an advocate.”
Back in the office, I get a call from Hayley (19) who is very vulnerable and going through a tough time. She wants suitable supported accommodation away from local gangs. She was almost stabbed and her mental health is deteriorating. I encourage her to contact her solicitor who is challenging the suitability of her accommodation. The local authority are not recognising her vulnerability and have refused to find accommodation out of the area. I have spoken to the personal advisor and manager and taken a complaint to stage 2. There’s not much else I can do to progress her case in the short-term – these are the kind of circumstances where, if the young person wants to, we need to refer to a solicitor who can get a judge to order the local authority to fulfil their statutory duties.
I call Iris, a 19 year old Care Leaver, to give her some good news. Her LA have given her priority points to bid for a 1-bed flat but she needs a 2-bed flat to meet her family’s needs - her one year old son has a physical disability and she is pregnant. Her LA said that normally Care Leavers only get a 1 bed flat. I told her social worker that it wasn’t appropriate to apply a blanket policy when there were clear reasons for Iris requiring a 2-bed flat and the social worker agreed to take this to the Housing Panel. She emailed me today to say it was agreed that Iris could bid for a 2-bed flat. Iris was pleased with the news and said that having an advocate made things progress much faster.
At the end of the day I look at some new cases that have come into our National Advocacy Helpline and take on a case to support Ricardo, a homeless 16 year old. He wants temporary accommodation while he figures things out with his mother.
With young people like James, Hassan & Ricardo, who are homeless and asking for help, it is outrageous that so many hurdles are placed in front of them before they can access the support they need and are entitled to – from services that are meant to keep them safe and help them achieve better outcomes. It’s important that Children’s Services engage with homeless children & young people and make it as easy as possible to access services. Children’s Services could be more child-friendly - things like being willing to call them more than once, visit them where they are or where they are comfortable, and believing what they say, can make the biggest difference to a homeless child.