Professional Zone

The Door Is Closed

Failure by local authorities to comply with their legal duties to protect teenagers is leaving this vulnerable group homeless and at risk from abuse. This is the key finding of our report, 'The Door Is Closed'.

In 2013-14, Coram Voice helped over 200 children and young people to challenge decisions by Children’s Social Care which had led to them becoming homeless.

A young person told Coram Voice:  “I was homeless. I had nowhere to go. Social Services helped me only because they didn’t want to go to court… I was not of an age to do anything. Social Services should have done what they ended up doing: found me somewhere to live temporarily until I was settled.”

By failing to help, Children’s Social Care Services leave this most vulnerable group of children and young people sleeping rough, at the mercy of people who would do them harm, suffering physical and mental ill health. When these children ask an advocacy organisation to help them challenge the system, they are too often turned away by services that will not help them precisely because they are not ‒ and never were ‒ in care: the very issue that they are asking for help with.

This report attempts to tell the story of how and why these children are so badly let down by the system which is supposed to help them, but also the story of how Coram Voice’s advocates, and the solicitors we work with, have found a way to make that system do its job properly.

Key Findings

  • Homeless children are being turned away by Children’s Social Care without support. Some are turned away without being assessed and are often told to return home.
  • Young people reported that their interaction with Children’s Social Care was difficult and confusing. Some could not recall having been in contact with Children’s Social Care, although through the work of the advocates it later became evident that assessments had been carried out.
  • As a result of poor assessments and failures to identify and address children’s holistic needs, Children’s Social Care services have not obtained the evidence that meets the criteria under section 20 of the Children Act 1989 for children becoming looked after. Thus many children are being sent to the Housing Department with section 17 support from Children’s Social Care.  At times they are sent to Housing with no support.  
  • Safeguarding issues are not identified consistently or, when identified, are not acted on or taken seriously.
  • There seems to be a non-acceptance by Children’s Social Care of what children tell them. Yet, at the same time, the onus to prove neglect or abuse is falling on the shoulders of the child.
  • Children are offered a choice of being supported under section 17 or section 20, and sometimes actively encouraged to choose section 17, without being fully informed of the significance of that choice.
  • Homeless children are facing great difficulties in accessing advocacy, either because they are not told about their entitlement to it or because their local advocacy service is not contracted - or refuses - to work with them.
  • It is difficult to challenge the failure of Children’s Social Care to accommodate a child under section 20 of the Children Act, meaning that we have to refer children and young people to specialist lawyers  

What needs to happen next

Our overarching recommendation is that Central and Local Government need to fundamentally change the way they approach child and youth homelessness. They must cease treating it simply as a lack of housing, instead recognising that it is a situation of risk that affects all aspects of a child’s life and that it can significantly undermine their personal development, physical and mental health, with lasting detrimental impacts on their life chances.

Coram Voice is asking Central Government to tackle this by putting pressure on local authorities to meet their obligations. “In the first instance, Children’s Services must follow the law,” says Andrew Radford, Managing Director. “If they did that, most of the problem would be resolved.”


Click here to download the full report.

Read the Executive Summary here.