In Brief

Cornwall Council ‘housed’ homeless teen in a tent

Social workers helped ‘vulnerable’ 17-year-old boy set up camp outdoors

Cornwall Council has come under scrutiny after it emerged that social workers gave a 17-year-old boy a tent to sleep in after he became homeless.

An investigation by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman found that the council failed the teenager, who cannot be identified, by leaving him homeless in the summer of August 2016.

The boy, who suffered from mental health and drug problems, “was left emaciated and was detained in a psychiatric hospital for 11 months” following the ordeal, Cornwall Live reports.

He had initially been placed in supported housing after an arrest for drug dealing, but was then evicted for breaching the conditions of the placement, making him homeless.

Despite social workers earlier evaluating him as being at risk of “overdose, addiction and potentially death”, the 17-year-old was taken to a campsite, where he says they gave him a tent, food vouchers, credit for a mobile phone and a torch, the BBC reports.

“They gave me the tent and drove off,” he told the broadcaster. “I was pretty depressed at that point. I tried putting it up on my own. Luckily, this random guy started helping me put up the tent because he saw I couldn't.”

Over the summer of 2016, the teenager “spent five weeks in a tent, four weeks in a static caravan and several nights sleeping rough”.

While living in the static caravan, he “reported being sexually assaulted by a man in a car”, The Independent reports, and on one occasion was “found in an abandoned building having set fire to a mattress to keep warm”.

Two weeks after he was finally moved into supported housing, the teenager was detained under the Mental Health Act, and spent 11 months in a psychiatric hospital.

Cornwall Council admitted “shortfalls” in its response, but says it had no other choice, as the boy did not want to go into care and turned down its offer of accomodation, 30 miles away from his hometown. The teen told the BBC that he did not want to leave college.

In a statement, Michael King, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: “There is a long list of failures in this case which had dreadful consequences for the boy.

“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.” 

Jack Cordery, service director for Children and Family Services for Cornwall Council, told the BBC: “There’s nobody, certainly not me who thinks that a tent on the best campsite in the world is suitable accommodation for a young person in that situation.

“What they hoped is that that would be for a very short period and that they would be able to get him into suitable accommodation. If a young person is refusing the offer of accommodation, it closes down those options really, really quickly.”

Cordery added that he would do everything in his power to make sure the situation never happened again.

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