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1.3.2 Procedure for Assessing the Needs of Homeless Families

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This chapter recognises the impact of homelessness upon children and families and details the legislation, responsibilities and processes in regard to prevention and response – particularly where there is ‘intentional homelessness’. The chapter notes the opportunity for early help and assessment where there is rent arrears. Close working between Children’s Services and the Housing Department are required at all times.

RELEVANT GUIDANCE

Pan Sussex Child Protection and Safeguarding Procedures (Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families)

RELEVANT CHAPTER

Strengthening Families Assessments

This chapter was introduced into the manual in November 2016.


Contents

  1. Introduction / Purpose of the Protocol
  2. Local Authority Responsibility to Homeless Families
  3. Procedures for Early Help Referral/Assessment: Early Help and Early Intervention to prevent Homelessness
  4. Homeless Referrals to Children’s Social Care: General Principles
  5. The Assessment
  6. Children’s Services Homelessness Process and Provision
  7. Finances and Entitlements
  8. Recording
  9. Providing Services
  10. Possible Additional Outcomes to Assessment
  11. Review of Procedure


1. Introduction / Purpose of the Protocol

Tackling homelessness is based on early intervention and preventative measures to keep families together and in their own homes. The Early Help Assessment is a tool to provide a holistic assessment for children and their families and the vehicle for multi-agency working to meet a child’s presenting needs through an Early Help Plan. This form of assistance is the responsibility of all agencies working with children aged 0 -17 yrs, to assess the needs of the child and their family and to work together to address - this includes both statutory and voluntary agencies. In some cases, prevention of homelessness is difficult, either because efforts fail or because an individual household fails to seek assistance, therefore making themselves 'intentionally homeless', but if possible with consent of the family for an Early Help Assessment and plan is a pro-active response to prevent homelessness, wherever possible.

This joint protocol has been devised to provide an improved service to families who have fallen through the welfare safety net and who have become or who are likely to become homeless. It aims to clarify procedures and foster co-operation and good practice between Housing, Children's Services and all other interested parties in Brighton and Hove, fulfilling the aims of the Homelessness Act (2002).

This procedure is to be read in conjunction with guidance on the Assessment Framework and in particular the Early Help Hub and Front Door for Families referral process. It covers the assessment and provision of services to families with dependent children who are homeless and not eligible for assistance from the Housing Department homeless service.

1.1 Aims

  • To clarify the statutory duties and agreed responsibilities under the protocol of local authority housing department and children and families;
  • To ensure families secure accommodation suitable for their needs and prevent future homelessness by addressing support needs at the earliest opportunity and enabling them to sustain their tenancy;
  • To promote cooperation and joint working between partner agencies.

1.2 Objectives

  • To meet the needs of intentionally homeless families with children as closely as possible within the remit of legislation and the resources available;
  • To jointly assess how best to meet these needs and identify any potential risks to health or development of the child(ren) of such families;
  • To ensure children do not become cared for by Social Services because of lack of suitable homes and ensure that they achieve, or maintain a reasonable standard of health and development;
  • To improve and promote joint working between the partner agencies.

This procedure has been prepared with reference to the following sources of information:


2. Local Authority Responsibility to Homeless Families

Housing

The housing department has a duty to assess homelessness applications in accordance with The Housing Act 1996 as amended by the Homelessness Act 2002. Under Section 193 of the Act the local authority has a duty to secure accommodation for people who are homeless, eligible for assistance, in priority need and not intentionally homeless.

Sometimes households are found to be homeless, in priority need, to have a local connection but to have made themselves 'intentionally homeless'. Under Section 190 of the Act, such households with dependent children are offered accommodation for a 'reasonable' period (generally 28 days), and advice and assistance in securing accommodation.

Under Section 213 A of the Homelessness Act, if social services decide the child’s needs would be best met by helping the family to obtain accommodation, they can ask the housing authority for reasonable assistance in this and the housing authority must respond. The local authority housing department would assist Social Services in discharging any obligations under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989, by advising families on the range of housing options available to them, which depending on their individual circumstance, they would be expected to pursue. Advice on housing options is provided during the housing interview, as part of the homeless assessment process.

Advice and assistance as is considered reasonable might include help with locating suitable accommodation and making inspection of a property to ensure it meets adequate standards of fitness and safety; however, the duty does not extend to a requirement on the housing authority to provide accommodation for the family.

Children's Social Care

Under the Children Act 1989 the Local Authority has a responsibility to assess a child's circumstances and consider offering services if it appears that a child may be in need.

Section 116 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 amends Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 to allow the assistance given by Social Services to include the provision of accommodation.

Under Section 17(10) of the Children Act 1989, a child is a Child in Need if:

  1. He/she is unlikely to achieve or maintain, or to have the opportunity of achieving or or maintaining, a reasonable standard of health or development without the provision for him/her of services by a Local Authority; or
  2. His/her health or development is likely to be significantly impaired, or further impaired, without the provision for him/her of such services; or
  3. He/she is disabled.

The Children Act 1989 responsibility applies to children living or found in the local authority area and applies regardless of any decision taken by another authority within any other legislative framework (e.g. housing Habitual Residence Test).

If the child is not "in need" there is no duty owed by the Local Authority (under Children Act 1989) to provide services.

Children's Social Care will undertake an assessment if it appears that the child cannot or may not be able to maintain or achieve a reasonable standard of health or development because s/he is without accommodation. Children's Social Care are obliged to look at the resources within the family to establish whether the family can use these resources to meet the needs of their child.

If a child or children are in need solely as a result of homelessness, Children's Social Care are expected to consider whether the best way of meeting the need is to help the family obtain accommodation, possibly by providing accommodation, or a deposit, under s17 of the 1989 Act.

If a family has made an application within the asylum arrangements for refugee status then they will obtain support in respect of their housing and income needs through the National Asylum Support Service. (See also, Manual Section ‘Children from Abroad').


3. Procedures for an Early Help Referral / Assessment

At the point a Housing department determines that a family with children are in rent arrears and have served a notice to quit and are likely to become homeless or not owed a duty under Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996, they must seek the consent of the family to instigate the Early Help Assessment process.

The Housing department must continue to provide advice and assist the family as part of a multi-agency plan of support, and every effort should made as part of this plan to secure alternative accommodation.

The Housing Department, in particular Housing Options, must contact the Early Help Hub to help to identify whether a child or young person has a Lead Professional assigned and if there are any additional needs. This will help to decide on the appropriate course of action:

  • Needs met by family or housing department without involving others;
  • A referral to a single agency;
  • May need a multi-agency response if the needs require services from 2 or more agencies.

Consideration is to be given to the impact on the child of the housing situation, impact of the housing situation on the parent's ability to provide an appropriate level of care and financial and other resources available to the family.

All theses elements must be recorded fully in writing.

If the needs require a multi-agency response a call is made to the Early Help Hub 01273 293962 and the referrer will be asked to send their concerns in writing, to earlyhelp@brighton-hove.gcsx.gov.uk which will initiate the Early Help process to prevent eviction.

If a family refuses consent to a referral to the Early Help Hub, the Housing Department must still notify Children's Services via the Front Door for Families, MASH@brighton-hove.gcsx.gov.uk if they believe the circumstances are such that a child is, or may be at risk of significant harm. or meets the criteria for S17 Child in need. The Threshold Document is used when decisions are made regarding criteria for Early Help and Social Care- Specialist Service. This document can be found on the Brighton and Hove Children’s Social Care Website. (See Brighton & Hove Inter-Agency Threshold of Need and Intervention Criteria for Children in Need).

Early Help and Early Intervention to prevent Homelessness

The practitioner needs to, with consent, ring the Early Help Engagement Team on, 01273 292632 to see if a Early Help Assessment already exists. If an EHA already exists the Children’s Social Care (CSC) staff will give the practitioner details of the Lead Professional and they will need to contact that person and share all relevant information. If an Early Help Assessment does not exist, the Early Help Engagement Team staff will ask the practitioner to complete an Early Help Assessment with the family.

The practitioner completes the Early Help Assessment with the family and gains written consent. The practitioner then notifies the Early Help Engagement Team who logs on the families details. They will then be asked to forward the Early Help Assessment form. (See Accessing children’s services).

Once the Early Help Referral is received the Early Help Engagement Team will contact the practitioner to arrange a first meeting. They will discuss dates, venue, childcare and transport requirements of the family to get to the meeting and discuss the agencies needed to attend the meeting. The Early Help Engagement Team will send out invites and a copy of the completed Early Help Assessment form to invitees. The first meeting will take place within 15 working days and the referrer has to chair the first meeting. At the first meeting the professional's, along with the parents, will develop an action plan to address the identified needs. At the meeting the Lead Professional is appointed and a review date is booked within 6 weeks for the first review. Subsequent reviews will be within 3 months.

The Lead Professional is a practitioner who will act as a single point of contact for children and families with additional needs to ensure they receive coherent and co-ordinated support. The roles of the Early Help Coordinators are to support professionals with the Early Help process and are contactable by phone to discuss issues and give guidance. They will as need arises support professionals at meetings.

Income Management Team

If the Income Management Team (IMT) are intending to take legal action for rent arrears on a property and they are aware that there are children in the household then they must contact the Front Door for Families for checks, as to whether the family are known or open to a social worker. If the family are known but not open then Front Door for Families will respond with the appropriate information. If the family are open to a Social Worker or if there is an Early Help Assessment open the referral with be forwarded to the Social Worker or Lead Professional for them to make contact with the IMT to ensure they are aware of the concerns and that the families needs are built them into planning.

If IMT believe there is a risk of eviction or a tenant is not engaging with them they will send notification to Front Door for Families. IMT will also copy in the Housing SWRO and this will alert the Front Door for Families to open a Housing Intervention Record to the Housing SWRO who will then contact the IMT to discuss a joint approach to prevent eviction.

Credit Control Team

If the Credit Control Team (CCT) within Housing are intending at taking legal action and there is a risk of eviction they will make contact with the Front Door for Families and copy in the Housing SWRO. The Front Door for Families will then open a Housing Intervention Record to the Housing SWRO who will then contact the CCT to discuss a joint approach to prevent eviction.


4. Homeless Referrals to Children's Social Care: General Principles

Section 213A of the Homelessness Act 2002 states that written permission be sought from all intentionally homeless families, with children, in order to send their details to the Front Door for Families. It is recommended that this be broached with the family prior to the decision being made in all cases.

The requirement to obtain the applicant's consent to the referral of the essential facts of his or her case does not affect any power for the housing authority to disclose information about a homelessness case to the Children's Social Care. For example, even when consent is withheld, the housing authority should disclose information about a homelessness case to Children's Social Care if they have reason to believe that a child is, or may be, at risk (Section 13.5 & 13.7 of the Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities, 2006).

Once the housing department has made the decision that a family with children is intentionally homeless, the Homeless Officer will issue a s 184 letter to the household explaining the Council's decision. The letter will state that the case will be referred to the Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub where the case will be screened and a decision made regarding the need for further support and assistance.

Children's Services departments do not have the primary statutory duty to provide accommodation to such families within the first 28 days of being found intentionally homeless. The extent to which Children Services will provide practical or financial assistance to a family will depend on the outcome of the initial stages of the Social Care Assessment.

In all cases, where further assessment work is undertaken, close liaison will be required between the Children Services and Housing Officers. Under Section 27 of the Children Act, Children Services can request for advice and assistance from the housing department to find help find suitable temporary accommodation for the family to move to after the 28 day period has expired (if this is deemed necessary in the Social Care Assessment), until the case is closed.

A decision to accommodate the child or children separately from their parents under S20, will only be made in exceptional circumstances. Only where the level of risk to the child is high or the ability of the family to provide adequate care is considered such that separate accommodation is the only short-term solution.

In all such cases a multi-agency approach is essential to ensure that no action is taken that places the child at further risk or disrupts the temporary accommodation without the knowledge of the other department.


5. The Assessment

The assessment framework ensures that Children's Social Care considers the environmental context of a family. Housing is a key aspect of this. Lack of housing is likely to be a cause of stress on the child and family. However, lack of housing must not distract attention away from other aspects of a child's need; the assessment of a child and family who present as homeless must include all the components of an assessment as set out in the Assessment Framework procedures. In summary:

  • All children affected by the referral must be seen and assessed; If a parent refuses for a child to be seen the Social Worker must refer this to a manager to review and decide upon a way forward;
  • All children must be interviewed as far as possible given age and understanding;
  • Interpreters to be used if required;
  • We are satisfied that a Family Group Conference has been explored to help the family generate their own solution;
  • All issues contained within the assessment framework must be considered including the health and educational, emotional and social development of the child;
  • Normal arrangements must apply in contacting and gathering information from other professionals;
  • Children's Social Care staff must always be open to the possibility that a child is suffering Significant Harm and consult with a manager if they believe this to be the case.


6. Children's Services Homelessness Process and Provision

Housing Options determine that a family is intentionally homeless they will then send a Section 184 (please see Housing Policy 1996, Section 184) letter to the applicant outlining the reasons for this decision and advising the applicant that as they consented and have children a referral has been sent to Children and Families. The Housing Options Officer will at the same time forward a copy of this letter to the Front Door for Families, copying in the Housing SWRO and Social Worker and their manager. If the applicant's are already in emergency accommodation they will be given 28 days notice that this accommodation will be ended.

This contact will then be screened and an initial contact be made with the applicant to determine if an assessment is required. If it is clear that there is another appropriate option for the child/ren e.g. family to stay with a relative, then no assessment will be undertaken and the referral closed.

If after initial screening it appears that there is no appropriate accommodation option for the child/ren then an assessment will be opened to the Housing Social Worker. If this assessment is not completed before the notice period given by Housing has expired, then permission will be sought by the Social Worker to extend the period of notice and the Housing Department will be asked to keep the emergency accommodation open under the service level agreement between the two departments.

If the assessment concludes that the children are not in need as there are appropriate alternate accommodation options open to them, the family will be given 14 day's notice to vacate the emergency accommodation.

If the assessment concludes that the child/ren are in need then the Social Worker will seek permission for the provision of the emergency accommodation to be extended.

If the child/ren are deemed to be in need then the parents/guardians will be informed that the emergency accommodation will be extended for an initial period of 3 months so that the family can look to source alternative accommodation in the private sector. During this period parents/guardians will be expected to take every practical step to source alternative accommodation. This will include:

  • Joining East Sussex Credit Union and start saving for the costs of moving;
  • Actively seek to find accommodation in the private sector;
  • Approach family and friends for financial assistance;
  • Register on Homefinder to consider available social housing in other areas.

Parents and carers will be advised that they if they are in receipt of Housing Benefit they can apply for rent in advance from Housing Benefit. Children and Families may be able to assist with help towards the deposit but this will be assessed on an individual basis, at the time of the request for assistance and checks will required to ensure the family do not have their own resources to cover all of the deposit.

Any assistance for rent in advance or deposit will need to be on properties that are “affordable” i.e. close to the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rate that the family is entitled to. If families take a property where the rent is above the LHA rate then they will need to give a written undertaking that they will make up the difference from their own resources.

After the initial 3 months the parents/carers will be required to attend a review meeting with the Housing SWRO and evidence they have joined the Credit Union and been proactive in seeking accommodation. This review will determine if there is to be an extension of the period in emergency accommodation.

If a decision is made that the emergency accommodation is to be ended then the parent/guardian will be given 14 days notice to vacate the accommodation. If the emergency accommodation is extended, it will be on a monthly basis with monthly reviews thereafter.

Children and Families may make a decision to source accommodation for the family and this could be out of the city if there seems no realistic option of them finding accommodation in the city and no overwhelming reason for them to remain in the city e.g. work, A refusal of the offer of this accommodation will lead to 14 days notice being given on the emergency accommodation.


7. Finances and Entitlements

Please note, no funding agreement can be made without agreement from the Head of Service / Assistant Director:

  • What finances do the family have?
  • Apply for Housing Benefit on first or by second day that family move into any accommodation;
  • Make family aware that they will have to meet any additional monies over housing benefit levels;
  • Obtain evidence that Housing Benefit or Income Support has been applied for;
  • Complete an expenditure checklist;
  • Ensure with colleagues in Housing Department that Housing Benefit has been claimed for on the first day that family placed in temporary accommodation;
  • Inform family that they will only be offered one accommodation and if they refuse it that Children's Social Care will not be making any further offers and that our duty will be discharged.


8. Recording

  • Ensure all information recorded including reason why family not deemed to be in need of services from the Children's Social Care when family have declined offer of accommodation or provision of services;
  • Ensure that all documentation is given to families in their first language if English is not their first language or they are not fluent in English and all letters to be written plain English to ensure they can be understood;
  • Ensure family has agreements in writing.


9. Providing Services

Assistance with housing may form part of a package of children in need services in the following circumstances:

  1. If there is a clear need to assess a child's welfare and the lack of housing is genuinely preventing the assessment taking place. A family may be placed in temporary/emergency accommodation for a brief time limited period;
  2. If the child clearly has been assessed as having needs which the local authority is obliged to meet as a priority and cannot meet because of a lack of housing. For example:
    • A child protection enquiry in which the safety of the child or the protection plan in the interim is jeopardised because of a lack of accommodation;
    • A child with a disability whose needs are not being met because of homelessness. (NB a child with a disability is defined under the Children Act as being a ‘child in need’ under the Children Act 1989);
    • A child is in Local Authority accommodation (and therefore Looked After) and the parents lack of housing is preventing re-unification.

In such cases, b) above, the local authority may consider whether three is a need to provide accommodation for a longer period - whilst working towards a resolution of the wider issues affecting the child/family.

  1. Services may also be provided if:
    • The child is found to meet the criteria for a child in need, (including assessments which indicate that the child's circumstances would be likely to deteriorate if services were not provided, meaning that the child would become a child in need);
    • It is clear that the lack of housing is a significant contributory factor to the child being in need;
    • The provision of housing or support in obtaining housing will assist in meeting the needs (i.e. housing is relevant to both the cause of the need and the solution to the problem);
    • The parents are unable to resolve these difficulties without support (e.g. because of learning difficulty, mental illness, recovery from trauma as asylum seeks, sever Domestic Violence and Abuse, etc.).

Services Provided could include one or more of the following:

  • Advocacy in support of a housing or income support application/appeal;
  • The provision of housing pending a review of the financial support available to the family to pay for their own housing;
  • Support in finding housing.

There will be a limit to the extent to which Children's Social Care can meet housing needs and any expenditure must be kept under regular review.

As part of any assessment, appropriate information should be provided to the parents as to how a child's health and educational needs can best be met, including providing information about local agencies that can provide assistance.

If the family is homeless, but the child concerned would not otherwise be considered to be in need and the family have other means of resolving the housing issue, then there is no case for providing accommodation. The family should be advised to make use of private accommodation and other networks to help with this (e.g. extended family).


10. Possible Additional Outcomes to Assessment

When the family are able to obtain or return to accommodation in another part of the UK or overseas, consideration should be given to meeting the costs of travel and in exceptional cases, re-establishing their home. The manager responsible must be satisfied that this is a satisfactory way of safeguarding and promoting the child's welfare.

In any case where housing is being provided from the Section 17 budget steps must be taken by the department to ensure that:

  • Another source of funding for accommodation is made available as quickly as possible;
  • Restrictions on recourse to public funds are lifted if possible;
  • Arrangements are made for the claim within the immigration or asylum system to be processed and resolved as quickly as possible.


11. Review of Procedure

This procedure will be reviewed on an annual basis. The need for an earlier review may be agreed between Children's Social Care and the Housing Department. It will be necessary to review practice and consider any area for further development as requested.

End