Mentally-ill teen forced to sleep on the streets after authorities refuse to provide accommodation
The 'vulnerable' 17-year-old was also detained in a psychiatric hospital for 11 months after the ordeal
An investigation found that a teenager suffering from mental health issues was ignored by the council and was left homeless, living in a tent and caravan for weeks. According to Cornwall Live, the "vulnerable" 17-year-old was left emaciated after he spent several nights sleeping rough. He was then detained in a psychiatric hospital for 11 months.
According to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) investigation, Cornwall Council made a series of considerable failings in its accommodation of the teenager, who allegedly showed "difficult behaviors."
The embattled boy spent four weeks in a static caravan, five weeks in a tent, and numerous nights sleeping in the cold after he approached the council for assistance. He was discovered at one point in an abandoned building after he set fire to a mattress to keep warm. On several occasions, the council provided accommodation to him that was inappropriate, the Ombudsman's report found.
Aside from that, it also found that the council did not properly assess the boy's ability to make decisions about his own safety and "didn't do enough to protect him from sexual exploitation or ill health" after he was sexually assaulted by a stranger. Evidence also suggests the council placed the responsibility of the situation on the boy rather than provide appropriate support to a vulnerable child with mental issues, the Mirror reports.
The Cornwall Council accepted the report's findings in a statement and claimed it had apologized to the boy as well as his mother for their shortcomings. It said that it would "do everything we can to prevent it ever happening again" and that it had adopted the recommendations of the LGSCO.
"A great deal has been done since 2016 to develop a range of housing options for homeless young people," the statement added.
Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman Michael King said: “There is a long list of failures in this case which had dreadful consequences for the boy. But the starkest, and most worrying element is the attitude shown towards his situation. I would have expected an unequivocal response that it was simply wrong to accommodate the boy in this manner. It is true the boy, in this case, showed difficult behaviors.
"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. I now hope Cornwall Council will take this investigation fully on board, and use it to learn where it can improve things so it doesn’t let other young people and their families down in such a way again.”
In its statement, Cornwall Council said: "Cornwall Council accepts the report of the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) and findings. There were several shortfalls in the response of the Council to the situation Mr. B was in between August — October 2016.
We have apologized to Mr. B and to his mother for those failings. We take on board the recommendations of the LGSCO. Although this was a unique and exceptional case, we will learn from it and do everything we can to prevent it ever happening again. A great deal has been done since 2016 to develop a range of housing options for homeless young people.
"In the last year, the Council has worked with over 100 young people aged 16-17 who have been at risk of homelessness or homeless and needing assistance. This is a growing problem nationally. In these circumstances, the Council treats the young person as if they were in care while its children’s and housing services undertake a joint assessment of their needs. Working with young people in these circumstances is complex and challenging.
"There are no easy solutions. In this particular case, there was a breakdown of a relationship with his family and we did not have the legal power to take this young person into care against his will. Professionals try to work with a young person as an individual, respect their wishes, develop a relationship with them and persuade them to make more positive choices.
"Wherever possible, staff are expected to try to mediate between the young person and their parents to sort out the problem and enable them to return home. In the vast majority of cases, as in this case, this is what the young person wants. In this case, the young person’s bail conditions did not allow him to return to live with his father, who lives in Cornwall. He was found ‘supported lodgings’ while the assessment was undertaken, but unfortunately, he was asked to leave. He then refused an offer of foster care. His mother lives outside Cornwall but felt unable to have him home to live with her. She also felt unable to allow the Council to use her holiday property in Cornwall whilst more suitable and permanent accommodation could be found that was acceptable to him.
"The worker supporting him felt it was better for him to stay on a campsite rather than for him to become street homeless, with all the risks that entails. However, this went on for too long and there were several points where the Service could have done more to support him. Throughout this period Mr. B wanted to return home to the care of one of his parents, but despite the efforts of the worker, this did not prove possible. He was finally persuaded to accept specialist, supported accommodation for homeless young people."