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Support Networks For Young Homeless People

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Published: Tue, 20 Feb 2018

The support network of leaving care and statutory homeless young people 16 and 17 years old living in homeless hostels

Contents

1. Introduction
2. “Legal” literature
2.1. Youth homelessness in England
2.2. Housing provision for 16/17 years old homeless young people
2.3. Leaving care
3. “Psychological” literature
3.1. Social networks
4. Methodology
4.1. Methodology
4.2. Construction of the interview
4.3. Procedure
4.4. The pilot study
4.5. Sample
4.6. Analysis of the interviews: categorisation of contents
5. Research findings and discussion
6. Conclusion

1. Introduction

Adolescence is a period where important changes occur in the relationship between young people and their parents (Paikoff & Brooks-Gunn, 1991). It seems that as young people try to become more independent the amount of conflict with parents increases (Paikoff & Brooks-Gunn, 1991; Laursen et al., 1998). Conflict levels seem to be higher in middle adolescence and decrease in late adolescence (Paikoff & Brooks-Gunn, 1991; Laursen et al., 1998). However, in some cases the conflict can be so intense that adolescents are evicted from the parental home or leave by their own initiative to avoid or escape the conflict situations and as a result they may become homeless (CHAR, 1996; Ploeg & Scholte, 1997; Smith, 1998; Fitzpatrick, 2000). Some leave their parental homes while they are under the age of 18 years old which means that legally they are still children. Therefore, these adolescents can be accommodated by the Children Services, under section 20 of the Children Act 1989, if considered to be children “in need” according to section 17 of the same act or by the Housing Department as statutory homeless under the Homelessness Act 2002 after their inclusion in the priority list introduced by the The Homelessness (Priority Need for Accommodation) (England) Order 2002.

Research on the topic of homeless young people found that among this group is possible to find a large number of adolescents that had been looked after by the Local Authorities. This adolescents suffered, in some cases, separations of years and several restrictions in the contact with their natural family. Yet, the Local Authorities still have parental duties regarding them and in most cases they had been accommodated in foster families. This can provide young people leaving care with additional sources of support.

It is often stated in literature that the social networks of homeless young people are poor and that they lack quality supportive links. In a study by Pleace et al. (2008) that looked at families and 16 and 17 years old accepted as homeless, the findings show that the instrumental (practical help in a crisis situation) and emotional (having someone to talk to) support received by 16 and 17 years old is mainly given by friends and family but overall this group is significantly less supported then the national average. Although this study gives an idea of the support networks of these group it is quantitative research and it does not provide much more information on the composition and quality of the support networks. Additionally, more than half of the participants were already 18 years old at the time the interview was conducted. Another study by Lemos and Durkacz (2002) that included 26 vulnerable people with ages between 17 and 53 years old with a history of homelessness showed that homeless people maintain supportive contacts with family although they differ substantially in regularity. Furthermore, they found that the relationship homeless people have with peers are mainly with other people they meet in homeless settings and although there are long term friendships this pattern is not the most common. This study provides qualitative information on the social network of homeless people, however there was only one respondent of 17 years old, all the other participants were older. Moreover it approached individuals with a history of homelessness with means that some of the participants were already in permanent accommodation and others had been homeless for several years.

Homeless hostels provide accommodation for statutory homeless and leaving care with 16 and 17 years old. The adolescents in this last group suffered, in some cases, separations of years and several restrictions in the contact with their natural family. Yet, the Local Authorities still have parental duties regarding them and in most cases they had been accommodated in foster families. This can provide young people leaving care with additional sources of support. In this study the two groups will be compared to determine the extent of support received and the existing differences.

The findings of this study can be used to enrich the knowledge about this vulnerable group and provide relevant information to professionals working with them in order to create methods to better support this group.

Research suggests that homeless young people have less support than their peers in the general population
There are a number of studies in the United Kingdom on the topic of youth homelessness. However, not much specific about the support networks and especially not much about the support network of homeless young people aged 16 and 17 years old. Additionally, the existent research focuses on homeless young people as a group and does not take into account the different groups of single homeless young people as statutory homeless and care leavers.

This study aims to examine the social networks of homeless 16 and 17 years old living in homeless hostels in London. It intends to find out the extent to which homeless young people have contact with family and friends and the quality of the support received from both sources. It also aims to find whether there are differences between the social networks of statutory homeless and leaving care young people aged 16 and 17.

The present paper is divided in five parts. The first part intends to contextualise the study by giving the different meanings of homelessness, presenting a brief history of homeless youth in England emphasising the causes that triggered that phenomenon to emerge. Additionally, the legal definition of homeless person will be given and the housing policies will be looked at. Finally, it will be presented an explanation of the term leaving care, the relevant legislation, the factors that can trigger homelessness and the factors that can affect the support network of this group. In the second part, a definition of social network and support network will be provided paying attention to the constructs that can be used to assess the existence and the quality of support networks, the importance of support networks will be highlighted and a studies of homeless support networks will be described and analysed. In the third part the design of the research and the sample will be described, the analysis of the interviews will be made and categorisation of the contents presented. In fourth part the results will be analysed and discussed related to the categories created. Finally, a conclusion will be drawn.

2. Legal literature

2.1. Youth homelessness in England

There is no consensual definition of homelessness, as the same word has different meanings for the government, the voluntary agencies that work with this group of people, the common citizen and the media (Pleace and Quilgars, 1999). For the general public the word homeless is likely to bring to mind images of someone without shelter, and in that sense homeless people are seen as those who sleep on the streets. However, a homeless person can also be a person that does not have a house and lives in emergency accommodation, is institutionalised, lives in temporary accommodation, such as bed and breakfasts hostels, refuges or lives with friends or relatives for a period of time. The term homeless can also be applicable to people that live in bad housing conditions, such as overcrowded houses, substandard houses or in environments that present a threat to the safety and wellbeing of the individual. Finally, the broader definition of homeless also includes people that do not have sufficient economic resources to buy or rent their own house and as a consequence have to share accommodation on a long-term basis (Thornton, 1990 and Fitzpatrick et al. 2000).

There is a legal definition of homelessness that will be given in the next section. However, for the purpose of this study young homeless people are those who are living in temporary accommodation and specifically homeless hostels.
The phenomenon of homelessness among young people in Britain rose significantly during the 1980’s and 1990’s (Quilgars et al., 2008) due to a conjunction of economic, social and political factors (Thornton, 1990).

In the 1970’s, a crisis in the oil industry led to a world economic recession that resulted in the closure of some companies and in a reduction in the recruitment or the redundancy of workers in others. This situation affected the manufacturing industries and in the United Kingdom it had a major impact on industries such as mining and ship-building. There was consequently a reduction in the number of jobs available or a complete lack of jobs in that industry, affecting particularly some areas of the country. The unemployment rate increased. Young school leavers, with almost no qualifications and with little or no work experience, that previously were able to get unskilled jobs were particularly affected. The increase in the rate of unemployment in some parts of the country made young people move to larger cities where they were more likely to find work in the service industry that had started to expand during the 1980’s (Hutson and Liddiard, 1997). However, the vast number of people that moved to big cities hoping to find a job, in conjunction with other demographic and social factors, aggravated the shortage of affordable houses . Consequently, in cities like London during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s it was possible to find a large number of young people sleeping in the streets (Smith, 1999). Some young people could not get a job and for those who managed to find work, the significant difference between their wages and those of adults made it harder for this group to compete in the housing market (Thornton, 1990).

The growth of youth unemployment resulted in an increase in the number of benefit claims made by this group, which had a significant impact on the social security budget (Hutson and Liddiard, 1997). To reduce the benefits bill, the government introduced changes in the Social Security Benefits (Hutson and Liddiard, 1997). Until the late 1980’s unemployed young people were entitled to Supplementary Benefit that paid board and lodging allowances which permitted them to live in bed and breakfasts . However, by the end of that decade with the Social Security Act 1988 (Fitzpatrick, 2000) those benefits were discontinued and replaced by Income Support and Housing Benefit . The new benefit system introduced different payment rates according to the age of the applicant and young people aged 16 to 25 years old were entitled to the smallest amounts . When this system was introduced it was thought that it would discourage young people from leaving their parents’ home before they had sufficient economical resources to support themselves . Nevertheless, the effect, at least in the years following its implementation, was the opposite and there was an increase in the number of young people, that without having the opportunity to return home, ended up sleeping on the streets or accumulating huge debts (Thornton, 1990). Young people aged 16 and 17 were the most affected by the change in the benefit system as they could only claim Income Support in exceptional circumstances (Fitzpatrick, 2000). This included couples with children, single mothers, pregnant women, young people with mental or physical health problems or young people that attended full-time education (not higher education) and were estranged from their parents (Income support: information for new costumers, 2000).

In 1986, the government extended the existing Youth Training Schemes, created in 1983, from one to two years in order to solve the problem of the high rate of unemployment among compulsory school leavers aged 16 and 17 and the forthcoming exclusion from the social security benefit system . This programme intended to provide young people with the adequate skills to successfully apply for a job and during the training period all trainees were entitled to a small weekly allowance . However, this measure was not successful as on the one hand, the government could not guarantee a sufficient number of work places for all 16 and 17 year olds (Fitzpatrick, 2000) and on the other hand, for many young people the chances of finding a job after finishing the training did not increase significantly (Hutson and Liddiard,1997).

In addition to all of this, a change in demographic and social factors such as the increasing rate of divorces and separations, the increased longevity of life and the rise in the average age of people when they first got married resulted in more single households . With more people in need of housing, the number of affordable houses available in the market decreased significantly making it more difficult for young people to become independent from their parents and be able to live in a house of their own .
While in the late 1980’s the main reason for homelessness among young people seemed to be the result of unemployment, that had made adolescents move from their home towns to bigger cities in order to find a job, in the early 1990’s the majority of homeless young people had left their parental home due to family conflict (Smith, 1998 and Smith, 1999). This is consistent with the findings from research conducted by Centrepoint. This organisation found that in 1987 half of the young people who had participated in the study had left the family home to find work or to live independently and that in 1996 almost all the young people (86 percent) had been forced to leave the parental home due to family conflict (Centrepoint, 1996 cited by CHAR). More recently, it was also found that 65 percent of the young people aged 16 and 17 accepted as statutory homeless participating in one survey had left the family home due to relationship breakdown, which confirms that currently this is still the main reason for adolescents to leave the family home (Pleace et al.,2008).

The change in circumstances that resulted in young people leaving the family home can be attributed to a combination of factors. Firstly, the change in family structures linked to the breakdown of nuclear families and the posterior family reconstitution (CHAR, 1996) can act as a trigger due to conflict in the relationship between the young person and the parent or step-parent (Thornton, 1990). It can also be the case that the remarriage of parents results in overcrowded households which could put an enormous pressure on the older children to leave the house (Thornton, 1990). Secondly, the fact that parents lose child benefit and have reductions in income support and housing benefit when the child reaches a certain age (16 years old ) can lead to tensions resulting from the economic dependency (CHAR, 1996). Finally, poverty, poor housing conditions and overcrowded houses can cause stress and anxiety that might also lead to conflict (CHAR, 1996).

After leaving the family home, there were not many options available for young people other than sleeping on the streets, staying with friends or family or approaching the housing departments and registering oneself as homeless. Accessing the private rented sector was complicated for young people as the rents were high, there was normally need for an initial deposit and for those not yet 18 years old it is not possible to hold a legal tenancy. For the under 18’s council housing could still be a solution, however, the massive selling of council houses during the 1980’s caused a reduction in the number of social houses available . Furthermore, this group was not considered in priority need for accommodation until 2002 (this will be explained in the next section).
The number of people sleeping rough in Central London increased so much during the late 1980’s that the government was forced to implement measures to respond to the problem of street homelessness (Fitzpatrick et al., 2005 and Smith, 1999). Therefore, in 1990 the Rough Sleepers’ Initiative was created with the aim of tackling street homelessness by providing outreach services, hostels and winter shelters (Smith, 1999). This initiative showed positive outcomes as it reduced largely, mainly in the first years of intervention, the number of rough sleepers in the centre of the capital (Fitzpatrick et al., 2005). Consequently, in 1996 this programme was extended to the rest of the country (Fitzpatrick et al., 2005).

The number of 16 and 17 year olds accepted as statutory homeless increased continuously from 1997/1998 (3,150) to 2003/2004 (11,050), having this peak probably resulted from changes in the homeless policies introduced in 2002. However, since then, the number of young people accepted as statutory homeless has been decreasing and in 2006/2007 reached 6,384 (Quilgars et al., 2008).

Due to the current economic recession, the rate of unemployment has increased in the last few months . Once again the most affected are young school leavers aged 16 and 17. According to government statistics in March/May 2009 the percentage of unemployment among 16 and 17 year olds reached 30.5 percent . Difficulty in finding work and not yet being entitled to claim benefits makes young people economically dependent on their parents, a fact that can cause tensions in the family which in turn can be a trigger for homelessness (CHAR, 1996). Nevertheless, the number of statutory homeless young people 16 and 17 year olds and 18 to 20 year olds care leavers accepted as statutory homeless has been decreasing since 2003 and in 2008 was 3,870 . These numbers, however, do not include young people that did not approach the Local Authority and might be sleeping rough or staying with family members or friends.

2.2. Housing provision for 16/17 years old homeless young people

The first law in the United Kingdom to define homelessness in legal terms (Pleace et al., 1997) and to recognise it as a housing problem was the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977 (Lowe, 1997). This Act was also the first piece of legislation to place a duty on Local Authorities to re-house on a permanent basis and as a matter of priority households considered homeless; as long as they provided proof that they could not arrange accommodation by their own means (Pleace, 1997; Lowe, 1997 and Pleace, 2008).
The definition of homeless person used in that act remained basically in the same terms within the Housing Act 1985. This last piece of legislation introduced the notion of priority need for accommodation and the groups that would fit into those criteria. Young people would only be considered in priority need under this act if they were considered to be at risk of sexual or financial exploitation (Thorton, 1990).

In the United Kingdom the definition of homeless person currently in use is given by the Housing Act 1996, and although with some minor changes stays fundamentally the same as in the previous acts (Pleace, 1997). Thus, the definition of statutory homeless stated in section 175 of that act refers to a person that has no accommodation in the United Kingdom or elsewhere or a person for whom it is unsafe to enter their accommodation or someone that is at risk of becoming homeless within 28 days. Additionally, a person can apply as homeless if there is a risk of domestic violence or another type of violence for them or a member of their family (Housing Act 1996, s177). The act also lists in section 189 the groups of people that are considered to be in priority need of accommodation. These groups include pregnant women, families with children, people that are vulnerable due to old age, people that have a mental or physical illness and people that are homeless as a result of flooding, fire or other emergency disaster.

This act introduced an inquiry stage, where a person applying as homeless had to show that he/she was eligible for assistance by the Local Authority Housing Department (Housing Act 1996, s184). However, one of the major changes introduced by this act, under section 193, was the reduction of the duty of Local Authorities to secure accommodation for homeless households (Cloke et al., 2000). The Local Authorities under this act had the duty to provide homeless people with the minimum of two years in temporary accommodation with the possibility of revising this provision after that period (Housing Act 1996, s193). In the meantime the details of the homeless households would be entered into the housing register and they would be put on a waiting list together with all other people that had applied for Council or Housing Association housing (Lowe, 1997). The second important measure introduced, under section 197, allowed Local Authorities to cease their duty to homeless households if another suitable accommodation was available in the area. In this case the Local Authority was only required to provide advice and assistance in order for the person to gain access to that accommodation (Cloke, 2000).

As it was shown, the housing policies referred to until now, do not seem to address in any way the specific housing problem of homeless young people. Young people can be considered statutory homeless if victims of domestic violence or if classified as vulnerable people but the inclusion in this last category was at the discretion of each Housing Department.

A piece of legislation that had an impact in the housing issues of homeless young people was the Children Act 1989. This act, under section 20, places a duty on Local Authorities to provide accommodation for children in their area that are in “need”, as defined by section 17, and require accommodation. A child is defined as “in need” if there is no person with parental responsibility, the child had been lost or abandoned or the caregiver had been prevented temporary or permanently to provide the child with suitable accommodation or care.

From 2002 the governmental strategy regarding homelessness seems to have changed from a solving approach aimed at reducing the number of rough sleepers to a more preventive approach (Pawson, 2007). The specific problems of homeless young people or those adolescents at risk of becoming homeless seemed also to have taken into consideration. With the introduction of the Homeless Act 2002 the duty of Local Authorities to prevent homelessness was reinforced. Local Authorities were required to create homelessness strategies aimed at the prevention of homelessness and at supporting people that are or may become homeless (Homeless Act 2002 s1, s2 and s3). In order to accomplish that, several measures were recommended, for example the creation of family mediation services directed at young people at risk of being evicted by their family or friends (Pawson, 2007). These services intended to prevent this eviction by helping the adolescents and family or friends to resolve the existent conflict (Pawson, 2007).

The Homelessness Act 2002 was also important as it abolished, under section 6, the minimum period for which a Local Authority is subject to the main homelessness duty, previously introduced by the Housing Act 1996. The result was to place again the duty on Local Authorities to secure accommodation until the household is placed or acquires permanent accommodation. Additionally, section 9 of this act abolished section 197 of the Housing Act 1996 by which the Local Authority would cease their duty to homeless people when other suitable accommodation was available in their area.

Another measure introduced in the same year was the Statutory Instrument 2002 No. 2051 The Homelessness (Priority Need for Accommodation) (England) Order 2002. This statutory instrument, under section 3, extends the category of priority need to include a young person aged 16 and 17 “who is not a relevant child for the purposes of section 23A of the Children Act 1989” and is not a “person to whom a local authority owe a duty to provide accommodation under section 20” of the same Act. Additionally, this instrument extended the priority for care leavers aged 18 to 21 or older if they are considered vulnerable as a result of having been looked after children.

The Supporting People programme introduced in 2003 had also an impact on homeless young people by recognising and investing in the quality of the housing support services available (Pawson, 2007).

When accepted as homeless by the Local Authorities Housing Departments young people are usually placed in temporary accommodation. There are different types of accommodation where young people are placed, though they can be classified in five broad groups. The first group comprises bed and breakfast hotels. This type of accommodation usually presents poor standards (Fitzpatrick, 2000), some lack cooking facilities, there are also concerns regarding safety and there are no qualified professionals on site that could support those youngsters (Quilgars, 2008). All these concerns seemed to have been taken into account by the government when on the 14th November 2006 Ruth Kelly announced in a speech that “we are making a commitment today that by 2010, 16 and 17 year olds will not be placed in bed and breakfast hotels unless it is an emergency”. Since then the number of young homeless people placed in that type of accommodation has decreased, from 550 at the end of December 2007 (CLG, 2008) to 340 (of those 120 had been in this type of accommodation for more than 6 weeks) (CLG, 2009). The second group includes hostels that provide specialised schemes for young people, where in conjunction with a safe environment, specialised support is provided (Quilgars, 2008). The level and type of support offered to residents differs (Quilgars, 2008), although generally includes the development of independent living skills, access to education or training and emotional support. The third type of accommodation is called Foyers and it is a type of hostel that supports young people with access to education, training and employment. The fourth type comprises shared houses, where a young person shares a house with others and has floating support adequate to his/her needs (Fitzpatrick, 2000). Finally, in recent years, supported lodging schemes have been expanding (Quilgars, 2008). In this type of provision the young person stays within a family house and is assisted to develop independent living skills. The adolescent has hi/her own bedroom and shares communal areas with the family .

2.3. Leaving care

Care leavers are young people 16 years old or older that have been in the care of a Local Authority. These children had been placed under the care of a Local Authority for different reasons. In the year ending 31st March 2008 of the 23,000 children who started to be looked after, 62 percent entered care due to abuse or neglect (DCSF, 2008). The amount of time children spend in care varies and although the current average is less than one year, 2.6 percent are still in care for 5 years or more and 7.2 percent between 2 and 5 years (DCSF, 2008). During this period, some of the children have little contact with their birth families . Additionally, the move into care can result in a change of neighbourhood and school (Stein, 2005) which can have a negative impact on the child’s relationship with peers. Moreover, there is still a significant percentage of children that experience several moves between placements (11.4% of looked after children moved three or more times during the year ending in March 2008) (DCSF, 2008) which can cause instability to children due to the change of “carers, friends, neighbourhoods, schools on several occasions” (Stein, 2005 p.7). Most of the children that are taken into care are placed with foster carers (DCSF, 2008) and when placements succeed foster carers can be an additional source of support to the young person even when they had ceased being looked after (Harper, 2006).

Research carried out in 1990’s found that it was common for these children to leave the care of Local Authorities between the ages of 16 and 18 years old and that the usual reason for that was the breakdown of placements or because it was thought by their carers that it was in the best interest of the adolescent to move when he/she had reached the age of 16 or 17 (Stein, 1997). However, findings from recent research verified that the proportion of young people that leave care at an early age is still high. Governmental statistics show that in the year ending 31st march 2008, of the 8,300 children aged 16 or over that ceased being looked after by Local Authorities, 24 percent were 16 years old and 15 percent were 17 years . Wheal and Matthews (2007) also found high percentages of young people that leave care at an early age. These authors passed a questionnaire to 91 care leavers and found that in 2006, 42.9 percent of 16 year olds and 29.7 percent of 17 year olds had left their placement and that in 74.5 percent of the cases the move had been part of their pathway plan. They also found that 41.7 percent had left care to go to semi-independent accommodation and that 18.7 percent went to live with parents or other family members . These last set of results are very similar to those obtained by Stein et al. (2007) through the examination of social services records and interviews with professionals that were conducted during part of 2003 and 2004. These authors verified that 39.2 percent of young people aged 16 or older that had left care went directly into independent living accommodation and that 18.2 percent returned home.

While young people in the general population are delaying the time that they leave the family home this research suggests that a large proportion of children in care leave residential or foster care at a very young age. Plus, it seems that a high number of young people had started to live independently before their 18th birthday.

Probably, the early age these children leave care (the maximum at 18th years old which is much earlier than the rest of the population that leave home on average at 24 ) and/or the lack of preparation to live independently and/or the lack of social support (as children that spent a longer time in care have weaker links with their birth family and friends ) increases the risk of becoming homeless, a fact that is corroborated by the large proportion of care leavers among the youth homeless population (Stein, 1997). More recently Barn et al. (2005) found that 36 percent of the 261 care leavers aged 16 to 21 that participated in their study had experienced homelessness for periods that ranged from weeks to more than one year.

The Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 imposed on Local Authorities a duty to improve the support given to care leavers. The support offered includes accommodation and financial assistance for 16 and 17 years old and the appointment of a personal adviser, the development of a pathway plan and general assistance to young people and young adults aged 16 up to 21 or 24 (DH, 2000). Additionally, this act placed on Local Authorities a duty to support care leavers up to 21 years old or 24 years if in full-time further or higher education. Under these circumstances the Local Authority has to provide vacation accommodation if needed (The Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000, s24B(5)). The Children and Young Persons Act 2008 extended the support to young people aged 21 up to 25 that had been previously in care and that wish to return to education or training. The support includes the appointment of a personal adviser, the development of a pathways plan (Children and Young Persons Act 2008, s22). This act also places a dut


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