Homelessness support fails families with young children, report finds

Joe Lepper
Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Support for the estimated 15,700 babies living in homeless households needs to urgently improve, a damning report by the NSPCC and Anna Freud Centre has found.

Analysis of official figures suggests 15,700 children aged two and under are living in temporary accommodation. Image: NSPCC
Analysis of official figures suggests 15,700 children aged two and under are living in temporary accommodation. Image: NSPCC

The report, An Unstable Start: Spotlight on Homelessness, details how poor co-ordination of local services is leaving homeless parents of children aged up to two struggling to access support and stable housing.

Many are forced to live in unsuitable bed and breakfast accommodation and hostels, or be put up by family and friends.

It welcomes the government's family policy test, which aims to ensure all social policies support family life, but warns it will not go far enough.

Among the recommendations is for the government to bring in a "gold standard" for the high-quality support a homelessness service should provide for pregnant women and families with babies.

An urgent review of out-of-area placements and their impact on family life is also needed, after the report found that councils are too often placing families with babies outside of their boundaries.

An estimated 4,440 families were placed in accommodation outside of their council area in 2014. This creates a complex structure of care with targeted support remaining the responsibility of one council, while universal support, such as children's centre services, is taken on by another local authority.

Other recommendations include better checks on the suitability of new accommodation for pregnant women or families.

Councils should also routinely measure how many babies in their area are affected by homelessness and local health and wellbeing boards need to take responsibility for the health needs of babies in homeless families.

In addition, local safeguarding children boards are urged to carry out a review of the role housing problems have in serious cases of child abuse or death.

NSPCC head of strategy and development Chris Cuthbert said: "It is clear that if policymakers want to create strong and healthy families and communities in the future, they should be taking decisive action now to support new parents and create the conditions in which all babies can thrive.

"We know that around three quarters of homeless parents face complex problems in their lives such as mental health problems or prolonged unemployment. We need health, children's and housing services that talk to one another and focus more sharply on ensuring families are able to provide the safe and stable home life children need."

The report's estimate of 15,700 children under two living in homeless families was calculated using Office for National Statistics family data and statutory homeless figures for September 2014, which showed there were 60,940 households living in temporary accommodation.

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