Young People's Zone

I am a child in need


The law says that Children’s Services must provide accommodation to any child or young person (under 18) if they have no-one to look after them or have nowhere to live (the part of the law that says this is Sections 20(1) and 20(3), Children Act 1989).

The first thing that Children’s Services will want to find out is if you are actually homeless (the part of the law that says this is Paragraph 2.26, Provision of Accommodation for 16 and 17 year old young people who may be homeless and/or Require Accommodation Joint Guidance 2010).  Wherever possible, Children’s Services will try and sort things out so you can return to your parents or stay with another member of your family. They will talk to:

  • Your parents – firstly to check whether they have thrown you out or whether they are willing for you to return home. If they are willing to have you back, Children’s Services should not send you home if that would make you unsafe. If you feel unsafe at home, it is really important to explain this to the social worker so they understand.  When you are 16 or 17 your parents can’t stop Children’s Services from providing you with accommodation (under section 20) as the law says that this is your decision and not your parents (the part of the law that says this is section 20(7) & (11) Children Act 1989).
  • Other family members – if you can’t return to your parents, the social worker may contact other family members or close family friends to see if you can stay with them. This might be just for a few nights until other things get sorted or it may need to be for longer if things at home are really difficult.  Children’s Services can offer financial support to family members to make it possible for you to stay with them (the part of the law that says this is Paragraph 2.34, 2010 Statutory Guidance).

If Children’s Services make all these calls and find that there is nowhere safe for you to stay that night, they must provide you with emergency accommodation. This should not be in a bed and breakfast (the part of the law that says this is Paragraph 2.16, 2010 Joint Guidance) and is likely to be with foster carers or in a children’s home.

If you go to Children’s Services for help, they must not just send you to the Housing Department to get somewhere to live (G v Southwark Borough Council 2009 – the ‘Southwark judgment’). You are under 18 and this means that you are probably going to need more help than just a roof over your head. Children’s Services need to look at your whole situation and decide exactly what help you need – this will include somewhere to stay but can also include other things such as help with your money, your education or your health needs.

To work out exactly what you need, Children’s Services will need to conduct an assessment. The assessment will involve talking to people - including you, your parents and other people who know you.  Children’s Services probably won’t be able to get all the information they need for their assessment immediately.  Government guidance says that the assessment can take up to 45 working days (that’s nearly 2 months) (the part of the law that says this is Paragraph 60 Working Together to Safeguard Children 2015) but while the assessment is happening Children’s Services have to make sure that you are safe and your emergency accommodation is continued (the part of the law that says this is Paragraph 61, Working Together to Safeguard Children 2015, paragraph 2.25 Joint Guidance 2010).

At the end of the assessment, Children’s Services will decide what help they are going to offer to you and your family. They can decide that:

  1. They don’t think that you are homeless and that it is OK for you to return home. If this is the case, they may close your case. If there have been lots of problems at home, they shouldn’t do this. If they do, you should contact an advocate or a solicitor to help you (see below)
  2. They see that there have been problems at home but they still think that you can return home (either to your parents or to someone else in your family). They may decide to continue working with you and provide you and your family with support to make things better. This is called being a “child in need” or receiving “Section 17 support”. It is important that you feel safe going home and agree with the support that is being offered. If you don’t, you should contact an advocate or a solicitor to help you (see below)
  3. Children’s Services agree that you are homeless and that it is not safe for you to return home. If this is the case they MUST provide you with accommodation under Section 20 Children Act 1989 (Southwark judgment 2009).  This means that you will be in care.  Sometimes Children’s Services say that they will give you somewhere to live under “Section 17 support”.  The law says that this is wrong as you should be in care to make sure you are getting the extra help you need (Southwark judgment 2009)

If Children’s Services offer to take you into care under Section 20, they must listen and take into account what you want (the part of the law that says this is section 20(6) Children Act 1989). Some young people don’t want to be in care and that’s OK but it is REALLY important that you understand what refusing to be in care under Section 20 means as it can make a big difference to the help you get in the future. 

If you go into care under Section 20 and stay there for more than 13 weeks you will become a care leaver at 18 and Children’s Services will have to support you until you are 21 (or longer if you are in education or training). If you say you do not want to be in care and so Children’s Services just help you under Section 17, this means that the help will stop when you turn 18. This probably sounds like boring legal stuff but it is REALLY important. If you are unsure about this you should have help from an advocate to explain things to you (the part of the law that says this is paragraphs 2.50 – 2.51 2010 joint guidance)

What can I do?

Be Prepared
It can be difficult to tell a stranger about all the things that have been going wrong at home. Although it’s hard, it is really important that you share everything with Children’s Services so that they fully understand your situation and can work out how to help. Try to think about the reasons why you can’t stay at home so you can explain these to the social worker when you meet with them.

Also, remember that Children’s Services can’t just send you to the housing department to get somewhere to stay. It might help to note down the bit of the law that says they have to assess you so that you can say this to them if they try and send you somewhere else without helping you (Southwark judgment).

Talk to People
The first person you need to speak to is the Duty Social Worker at your local Children’s Services. It is best to go to the Children’s Services offices and explain your situation and ask to speak to the Duty Social Worker. Try to go early – if you go late in the day, they might say that they can’t see you until tomorrow which might mean you have nowhere to sleep that night.

Also, be prepared to wait. It can be hard to wait a long time when you are worried and scared about where you are going to sleep that night but sometimes it can take a while to get a meeting with the Duty Social Worker. Try to stay calm and wait – if you are in their offices, they will have to see you eventually.

Making a Complaint
Making a complaint probably isn’t the best option at the moment. It’s normally something children and young people can use if they don’t agree with something Children’s Services have done (or not done). If you haven’t been involved with Children’s Services before, making a complaint might be difficult. 

If you meet with Children’s Services and they refuse to help, you could make a complaint but even then it might not be the best option. Complaints can take weeks, even months to get sorted out. If you are homeless, you need action now and so getting help from an advocate or solicitor might be a much better option.

Get Some Help
If Children’s Services do not agree to help you, it is important that you get some help straight away. You can call your local advocacy service and see if they can help. You can find your local advocacy service by clicking here.

Another option is to call a local solicitor as they can normally get things moving more quickly. The solicitor will probably ask to meet with you to get all the details and then they will speak to Children’s Services on your behalf. If you want to speak to a solicitor you can contact Coram Children’s Legal Centre on 0207 713 0089 for advice.

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