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 Tuesday, 22 January 2019
Homeless Up North

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Homeless Children Miss 1/4 of the School Year!


2 September 2013

Abbie is one of my Family Support Workers in our Refuge for women fleeing domestic violence. She told me recently of her struggle getting children into education while they are living in temporary accommodation.

“Even with me ringing them every day, and helping fill in the forms, it takes usually seven weeks to get the children back into a school!”

I thought, that can’t be right. Even when your child gets excluded from school for bad behaviour, the local authority have a statutory duty to get the child back into education within four weeks. So I looked it up.

To my surprise there is no such statutory duty when you are homeless! Good practice says four weeks, but in reality six to seven weeks is still good going. With the volume of in-year transfers local authorities have to deal with, it is of course little wonder that they concentrate on their statutory duties initially and the things that get monitored. And, of course, homeless people are rarely registered to vote, so they also would not have a local councillor to approach if they are concerned with the performance of the local authority they find themselves in. 

Homelessness is a crisis; you have no choices with regard to location. Nevertheless, if you had to move because you are fleeing domestic violence or because you lost your home for other reasons, such as the bedroom tax, the rules still sate that you “removed your child from education voluntarily.”

The situation is likely to get more complex from September 2013. Until then, you only had to apply once to the local authority who then placed you with a school. Now parents in many local authorities have to apply directly to the schools they want to consider. When you find yourself in Angela’s situation, who had to flee the family home with only £20 in her pocket, this is easier said then done. How to afford even the bus fares?

Families like Angela’s are the lucky ones. They found suitable temporary family accommodation. Some children are not so lucky and find themselves in bed & breakfast accommodation, except it is really bed without breakfast! Luckily in Leeds and Kirklees families are now rarely housed in B&Bs. Families in B&Bs have no cooking facilities and often find themselves using shared facilities with other homeless people with multiple support needs such as drugs, alcohol or poor mental health.

The facts: Homeless children miss out on education and underachieve

  • Children are simply missing from education: Contact between the education system and the family may end when schools do not possess a forwarding address. [Shelter Case study]
  • Destitution & Poverty prevent children’s education: Parents can’t afford transport to admissions offices, the school run or school uniforms [Connect Case studies]
  • Logistics: children have had emergency allocations to two or three different schools and parents can’t manage the school run on time and the children may have to take turns for being late each day [Connect Case studies]
  • No space to do homework: ‘Here we have a living room, but at the last place (I lived in) it was really difficult. I had to do my homework on top of the fridge...’[Shelter Case study]
  • Stress, poor mental health and behavioural issues are more likely to lead to the exclusion of homeless children. One in four homeless children are permanently excluded, when it is only one in 10 in the general population.
  • Services for homeless people including families with children and especially young single homeless people have been subject to severe cuts over the last two years. Practical support is often what is missing and landlords and the remaining support providers are left picking up the short fall: emergency grants, food banks, bus tickets to help parents access education for their children, advocacy for the less articulate, form filling, getting children registered with dentists, GPs and health visitors and schools. In our case, we also subsidise activities to engage vulnerable children in positive play and build their confidence and help them make friends in the new environment. We run for example an after school club in the local school which is both for our tenants in the refuge and children in the wider community.

There is also a need for emotional support. Landlords and support providers for example have been facilitating peer support, positive and therapeutic play for children affected by domestic violence, positive parenting, confidence building and anger management, as well as making and following up referrals to specialist services, such as counseling or mediation.

I am pleased that Abbie’s funding has been secured for another year, so she can help most children she works with shave 20 days off the dire statistic that condemns them to missing 55 days of their school year. We live for small victories!

This article is based on case studies and research undertaken by Connect Housing and the following external publications:

Barbara Kempf, Community Services Manager 

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