Housing options protocol for care leavers: guidance for corporate parents

Guidance for local authorities and their community planning partners on improving housing and accommodation outcomes for care leavers.

Section 1: Context


8. The Children (Scotland) Act 1995 provides the legislative underpinning for the duties and powers of those public authorities responsible for supporting care leavers. Although many of the specific provisions have been amended by subsequent legislation and regulation, the principles set out in the Act's accompanying guidance continue to be relevant for local authorities and other corporate parents. For example, the guidance states clearly that local authorities (and their corporate parenting partners) have a responsibility for preparing all looked after children for their lives after care, regardless of their placement type. [8] It also notes that young people should not be moved on to independence too quickly: 'the age of sixteen for most young people is too young to make a successful transition'. [9]

9. The Supporting Young People Leaving Care in Scotland: Regulations and Guidance on Services for Young People Ceasing to be Looked After by Local Authorities (published in 2004) built on or amended the provisions laid out in the Children (Scotland) Act 1995, setting out in detail the procedures to be followed by agencies providing throughcare and aftercare services to care leavers. The regulations (and statutory guidance) also reflected changes established through the Regulation of Care (Scotland) Act 2001.

10. The ' Supporting Young People' guidance re-states that local authorities and their corporate parenting partners have a duty to provide assistance to care leavers, and that this may be in form of accommodation support. The guidance states:

"Not all young people will be looking to move from their current placements and these young people should be encouraged to remain where they are until the time to move is right for them. The pathways assessment and plan will have set out what kind of accommodation best meets the needs of the young person and how this is to be obtained. Moving to new accommodation can be stressful and authorities will want to make sure that the levels of support they provide meet the needs of each individual. Some young people will need more support than others and authorities should have a range of services which addresses these differences." [10]

11. The ' Supporting Young People' guidance also encourages relevant authorities to take into account a young person's health needs, and the location of the accommodation; 'It may be important for a young person to be close to support networks or to have easy transport links to their place of study or employment'. [11] The guidance states clearly that young people should not be placed in unsuitable bed and breakfast or hostel accommodation. [12]

12. The issue of appropriate and effective support for care leavers is also highlighted in official guidance on preventing homelessness. In the Scottish Government's Code of Guidance on Homelessness (published 2005) it states that: "in no circumstances should children leave the care of a local authority without alternative accommodation appropriate to the assessed needs of the young person being in place". [13]

13. This statement was elaborated on further in the Prevention of Homelessness Guidance (published 2009), which informed local authorities that: "care leavers should never leave the looked after system without careful advance joint planning to ensure that they do not enter the homelessness system at all. Appropriate accommodation and any required support should be in place prior to any looked after child leaving care". [14]


14. Despite this extensive guidance and calls for action from Scotland's Commissioner for Children and Young People [15] , many care leavers are still unable to make successful transitions to suitable, sustainable accommodation. Due to this fact, this guidance on Housing Protocols comes at a time of significant change in the wider policy landscape for looked after children and care leavers. For example the Children and Young Bill (as introduced to the Scottish Parliament in 2013) proposes to extend the right of care leavers to request support from local authorities up to the age of 26, as well as refining the duties of corporate parents. Together with other proposals in the Bill, these changes emphasise the responsibility of CPPs to jointly plan and deliver services which meet the needs of all care leavers. [16]

15. This guidance should also be read in conjunction with Staying Put Scotland: Supporting Young People through a Staged Transition out of Care. [17] The central tenets of this new policy are:

  • Staying Put: Looked after young people are encouraged, enabled & empowered to remain in positive care placement until they are ready to move on.
  • Extended & Graduated Transitions: Looked after young people are supported to (1) move on from their care placement in a gradual and phased manner, over a period of time; (2) to test out their independence; and (3) return to an appropriate care setting which takes account of their age, maturity and ability (if and when such a move is in their interests).
  • Post Care Accommodation and Housing Options (which this guidance document specifically addresses).

16. Corporate parents will also want to consider the recommendations of the Scottish Parliament's Equal Opportunities Committee Report ' Having and Keeping a Home: Preventing Homelessness amongst Young People' (published October 2012), which made specific reference to care leaver protocols.

"We are encouraged to hear that some councils' 'care-leaver protocols' engage with looked-after children a year in advance of their leaving care. We are greatly concerned, however, by evidence to us indicating that looked-after children were still being routinely discharged through the homeless route.

We recommend that the Scottish Government establish which local authorities do not operate effective care-leaver protocols appropriate to the young person and that it take action as necessary to address the situation."

17. The Scottish Government's Minister for Housing and Welfare welcomed the report and indicated that the recommendations would be considered by the national Homelessness Prevention and Strategy Group.


18. The reasons why children and young people become 'looked after' will vary, but for the majority it will be because their parents were unable to care for them. Many will have experienced abuse, neglect, disruption and loss; experiences which may have had a damaging impact on their emotional and social development. Some need specialist help with physical disabilities or mental health problems.

19. Research has consistently shown that the success of these young people's journey to 'independence' is strongly influenced by the nature of their transition from care, and the support they receive afterwards. [18] But many continue to experience a more accelerated, compressed and abrupt transition than their non-looked after peers. As Professor Stein has noted, "in contrast to the extended transitions made by most young people, the journey to adulthood for many care leavers is shorter, steeper and often more hazardous." [19]

20. Whilst the national average age for leaving home is now approximately 25 years old, the average age at which young people leave their care placements in Scotland is 16-18 years old. [20] Many are ill-prepared for the realities of independent living, as their subsequent poor outcomes attest. [21] Accommodation instability is common (with tenancies breaking down), and this directly affects other critical areas of their lives, such as their engagement with education, employment or training.

"[Care leavers] are more likely …to have poorer educational qualifications, lower levels of participation in post-16 education, be young parents, be homeless, and have higher levels of unemployment, offending behaviour and mental health problems." [22]

21. The stress of unstable, unsuitable accommodation (such as B&Bs and homeless hostels) can also impact on their physical and mental health, creating, exacerbating and compounding pre-existing vulnerability and disadvantage. [23]

"[…] hostel accommodation could have a negative effect on young people confidence and self-esteem and may not provide a suitable supportive environment." [24]

22. The ability to live independently (in accommodation of your own) demands resources, support and skills. For many care leavers the acquisition of practical skills is challenging, due to the lack of extended opportunities to develop and practice these skills. But perhaps an even greater challenge is in developing and sustaining positive social networks. The lives of looked after children and care leavers are so often characterised by disruption, whether in changes to their care placement or accommodation, that building a support network can be difficult. Indeed even when good quality accommodation is found for care leavers, this may be in communities they are not familiar with, distant from family and peers.

23. UK wide studies tell us that young people with a care history are particularly vulnerable to and disproportionately represented in the homeless population. It has been estimated that between 20%-33% of young people leaving care can experience homelessness in the first year after leaving care. [25] The charity Shelter estimates that 20% of care leavers experience homelessness within two years of leaving care. [26]

"..about one-third of young people experience homelessness at some stage between 6 and 24 months after leaving care." [27]

24. In line with falls of homelessness applications across Scotland in recent years - and against the background of the introduction of housing options approaches - Scottish Government statistics suggest that of the approximately 1,000 young people who leave a care setting each year, there has been a steady fall in the numbers who apply as homeless directly from care. Indeed the falls have been at a faster rate than applications more generally. Applications by individuals 'under 25 and previously looked after and accommodated by the local authority' (a population group of approximately 9,000) have also fallen in absolute terms (1,624 applications in 2012/13, compared to 1,931 in 2011/12 and 2,338 in 2010/11). However as a percentage of all homelessness applications (approx. 4%), this group has stayed relatively consistent for a number of years. It also continues to represent just over 18% of the total under 25 looked after and accommodated care leaver population. [28]

25. Statistics for 2012-13 also indicate that around 20% of this group spent some time in Bed & Breakfast accommodation during their homelessness, and a relatively high percentage of these applications are recorded by local authorities as 'lost contact'. [29] Moreover, figures on homelessness applications collected by local authorities only reflect those who actually apply for homelessness assistance and may omit a significant proportion of young people who may experience many different forms of homelessness.


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