Cornwall council admits to ‘severe shortfalls’ after housing homeless boy in tent

Written by Nikita Lysyuk |

 

Cornwall council has released a statement accepting a report of a “long list of failures” which had “dreadful consequences” in their failure to provide proper accommodation for a young teenager, 17, suffering from drug addiction and mental health problems.

 

“The teenager spent four weeks in a caravan, five weeks in a tent, and several nights sleeping rough”

 

The teenager spent four weeks in a caravan, five weeks in a tent, and several nights sleeping rough over the summer of 2016 after approaching Cornwall council for help, an investigation by the local government and social care ombudsman found.

The boy had become homeless after breaching the conditions of his supported accommodation in another town. He then refused an offer from the council of supported accommodation 30 miles away from the area he knew. A social worker next bought the boy a tent, and even helped him pitch it.

He had previously been arrested for dealing drugs, and was not allowed to return to live with his father. Council records show that although she had challenged the decision, the teenager’s mother could not accommodate her son because of the risk to other children she fostered. She travelled down to Cornwall at regular intervals despite the distance, saying: “I felt ill all the time, tired, exhausted emotionally drained, just barely able to function really.”

 

“Over the coming weeks the boy would be subjected to a series of unfortunate events”

 

Over the coming weeks the boy would be subjected to a series of unfortunate events, despite repeated requests for alternative accommodation. The council received two calls about his welfare, including after one incident when he had been found in an abandoned building having set fire to a mattress to keep warm.

After five weeks of living in a tent, the council decided the boy was at such risk that it moved him to a static caravan on a different site. The following week he reported being sexually assaulted by a man in a car. Around a month later, the council moved the boy to a bed and breakfast accommodation which, under government guidance, was unsuitable. He was then finally moved to appropriate supported accommodation.

He was found emaciated and two weeks later he was detained in a psychiatric hospital under the Mental Health Act. This lasted for 11 months.

 

“The council provided accommodation that was inappropriate”

 

Evidence suggests the council tried to place responsibility for the situation on the boy, and case records show the council noted that if he could show he wanted to make some changes, his options would increase. At one point the council bought the boy a new tent after the first one started leaking. However, despite the boy’s history of cannabis use and mental health issues, the ombudsman said that the council provided accommodation that was inappropriate and did not do enough to protect the 17-year-old from sexual exploitation or ill health.

The ombudsman, Michael King, said: “There is a long list of failures in this case which had dreadful consequences … But the starkest, and most worrying, element is the attitude shown towards his situation.”

He added: “It is true the boy in this case showed difficult behaviours. However, this is exactly why the Children Act exists to support the most vulnerable in our society and councils should not apportion blame when help is needed.”

There is no evidence of the council considering whether to take any action, under section 47 of the Children Act, to safeguard him following the report of sexual assault.

 

“They should have done so much more”

 

The teenager told the BBC: “It was a pretty traumatic experience for me because I’ve always lived in a house somewhere. They should have done so much more. They should have put me somewhere with a roof over my head.”

He recounted one night when there was a violent storm. “It was real bad. I thought my tent was going to go over so I was constantly in my tent … Loads of wind, torrential rain and all my stuff got wet. Everything was wet. Even I was wet when I woke up,” he said.

The watchdog ordered the council to pay £2,500 to the young man alongside an additional payment of £1,500 to his mother for the severe distress and frustration it caused. It also recommended that the council review its policies and draw up a suitable plan to ensure sufficient accommodation for homeless young people.

Cornwall council stated: “Cornwall council accepts the report of the ombudsman and its findings. There were several shortfalls in the response of the Council to the situation [the teenager] Mr B was in between August – October 2016. We have apologised to Mr B and to his mother for those failings.

“Although this was a unique and exceptional case, we will learn from it and do everything we can to prevent it ever happening again.”

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