Decent homes for care-leavers plea
Young care leavers should be offered a decent place to stay and not be put up in "unsuitable" accommodation like bed and breakfasts, a cross-party group of MPs has warned.
In a new report, the Commons education select committee said that youngsters who are becoming adults and leaving care should not be abruptly pushed out of the system.
It recommends that these young people should not be forced to leave care before they turn 21, and must be provided with regulated accommodation.
The report looks at the options and experiences of children and young adults in care after they turn 16.
It concludes that whilst "tireless efforts" are made to ensure high standards for childminders, foster carers, residential children's homes and schools - which all face inspections - other arrangements and accommodation does not face the same scrutiny.
The Department for Education (DfE) says that bed and breakfast accommodation should not be considered suitable for young care leavers, but it is still used, the committee said.
It called for an outright ban on the use of B&Bs and urged the DfE to consult urgently with councils on a timeframe to introduce this.
Local authorities should report to the DfE on their use of B&Bs, MPs said .
The report also recommends that the Government ensure that looked after young people who are approaching adulthood are informed of their rights and entitlements and given a choice of accommodation.
Committee chairman Graham Stuart, said: " Looked after young people moving towards adulthood deserve a well-supported transition to independence rather than an abrupt push out of care.
"We launched this inquiry because we were concerned about the level of care and quality of support provided for older adolescents. We have now been persuaded of just how serious the problems are in this area and our report sets out the steps that must be taken to improve 16 plus care options".
Mr Stuart, Conservative MP for Beverley and Holderness added: " For too many looked after young people, their ambition to move to semi-independent or independent living at the age of 16 or 17 results in them being placed in accommodation that is neither safe nor suitable.
"The lack of regulation and inspection for the range of accommodation used is shocking. We urge the DfE to consult on the introduction of a regulatory framework for all accommodation that falls within the catch-all term 'other arrangements'.
"The DfE asserts that B&Bs are not considered to be suitable. Far from being merely unsuitable, this kind of housing is frequently both threatening and frightening to a young person. Their continued use shows that the current guidance is clearly inadequate.
"The DfE should consult urgently with local authorities to determine a reasonable timeframe for the outright ban on the use of B&Bs for looked after young people. In the meantime, the message is plain: B&Bs are not suitable and should only be used in extreme, emergency situations and even then, never for more than a few days."
Councillor David Simmonds, chairman of the Local Government Association's children and young people board, said: "Looking after vulnerable children is one of the most important things that councils do and is a responsibility they take incredibly seriously. Local authorities work extremely hard to make sure that all children in care are found suitable accommodation and are well looked after, and the vast majority of councils will only ever use bed and breakfast accommodation as a temporary solution to exceptional circumstances.
"The child's best interests must always be our central concern, and there will be times where emergency placements are required at extremely short notice. We must be careful to ensure that any ban on the use of bed and breakfasts does not leave vulnerable young people effectively homeless due to a lack of temporary accommodation. These cases are often extremely complex and take time to resolve in a way that offers the best long-term solution to the young person."
A Department for Education spokeswoman said: "We have significantly improved the support on offer to young people leaving care, including changing the law so all children in foster care can stay until they are 21, and tightening the rules so fewer 16 and 17-year-olds leave care before they are ready.
"We have also been clear that young people must not be placed in bed and breakfasts unless absolutely essential, and we will take tough action where we find this is happening.
"It is our priority to improve the quality of residential care and we have set out our plans to do this. We are working closely with the National Children's Bureau and the Who Cares? Trust to look at the practical issues of supporting young people to remain in homes until they are 21."
Sir Tony Hawkhead, chief executive of Action for Children, said: "We know that thousands of care-leavers are moving out before they are ready, leaving some of the most vulnerable at risk.
"The average home leaving age is 24, yet young men and women who are dealing with severe challenges like the legacy of abuse and neglect, emotional and mental health issues, have to manage without support, some of them only 18.
"The difficulties that these young people face don't disappear overnight and support must be more flexible and gradual to meet their needs."