16 and 17 year old young people at risk of homelessness
11. Facilitating informed decision making
This process can be challenging for young people who have often faced multiples adversities by the time they reach the stage of being homeless. In Homeless Link’s, Young and Homeless 2020, ‘We have a Voice, Follow Our Lead’, young people valued organisations that were empowering and encouraged participation, where their experiences of adversity were recognised, and where they were provided with responsive and tailored support. Stories highlighted the importance of services being able to listen and interpret young people’s needs.
This section provides advice on how to support, safeguard and empower young people through centring a trauma informed approach.
11.1 Impact of trauma
16- and 17-year-olds faced with homelessness have often faced multiple traumatic experiences. This may include a single traumatic event, e.g., the loss of their home, or it may involve ongoing complex trauma. It can include early and ongoing experiences of physical and emotional abuse, neglect, familial rejection, and breakdown, loss, or death of a loved one, domestic violence, gang-related violence and/or exploitation, serious injury, fleeing their country of origin, surviving a natural disaster, surviving terrorism, etc. Experiences of prejudice are often part of, and intersect with, these traumatic experiences. For example, akt, an LGBTQ+ youth homelessness charity, found that LGBTQ+ young people who become homeless frequently experience sexual abuse, bullying, and neglect from their family because of their sexuality and/or gender identity.
Traumatic experiences violate people’s boundaries and can influence brain development, the way we see ourselves and the way we attach and relate to the world and others around us. This can play out in behaviour and belief systems for example people may feel:
- Fear and a constant state of alert
- A sense of helplessness and powerlessness
- Shame and/or a sense that they are a bad person
- A lack of trust in others and services
- Difficulty managing emotions
Young people may not trust services and individuals who represent systems associated with their trauma, who therefore represent or are associated with a lack of safety and control. They may want to distance themselves from and disengage with support available. Professionals should recognise that this is a protective response, and how it may impact their decision making when it comes to navigating their housing and support options.
A trauma-informed approach recognises young people’s behaviour - often labelled as disengaged, challenging, disruptive or aggressive - as normal coping mechanisms that have been developed to respond to and keep them safe in abnormal situations.
11.2 Building a trusting relationship
Building a safe physical and social environment and safe relationships will provide young people with space to explore their housing options and make informed decisions. Young people have highlighted the importance of sustaining and trusting relationships with staff in homelessness settings as a significant factor impacting their self-confidence, and sense of control in their lives.
Getting to know the young person beyond their issues and needs is important while supporting them through homelessness, in order to increase opportunities of understanding and trust, and support and develop their self-esteem and resilience. The relationship with the young person should be respectful, honest, non-judgmental and have clear and appropriate boundaries.
It is important to be consistent and dependable, while only making promises that can be kept and are within the remit of the organisation. Setting clear boundaries supports people to understand what they can expect from the service, as well as other services, and helps to build trust.
Professionals should be upfront with a young person about the duties to raise safeguarding concerns are, and what this means for them. It may be useful to conduct a safety assessment with the young person to help inform the work with them, support transparency, and monitor any impact on the options available to them.
11.3 Managing and providing information
Young people in homelessness services consistently raise that they did not have access to the right information when they became homeless. Young people must be informed of their rights to facilitate informed decision-making. It is, however, important to get the right level of information so young people are not overwhelmed. Exploring and understanding young people’s wishes and needs should be prioritised. Validating feelings and emotions and providing empathetic and non-judgemental support can support engagement with young people who have experienced trauma.
Traumatic experiences can affect memory, and other cognitive processes, such as focusing attention, planning, and problem solving. This means some young people may face challenges in processing, understanding, and retaining information: information may need to be provided and revisited at different points and presented in different formats. If there are concerns a young person has not taken in what has been said, it is better to ask them to repeat and summarise what was said, rather than asking them if they understood.
11.4 Providing age-appropriate support
Professionals should recognise that 16- and 17-year-olds will have limited experiences where they have been offered choice and control, for example, the young person or child’s consent is not usually needed to initiate safeguarding responses. In addition, young people will have often left homes where they were somewhat dependent on an adult. Any choices they have had, may have been dictated by threats to their own or others’ safety.
To build up to this, it may be useful to, where appropriate, start delegating responsibilities or tasks to the young person to help develop a sense of shared responsibility and trust. It is important to note that while you may disagree with a young person’s decision, you should not undermine them or act in a way that reduces a young person’s control, as this can be disempowering and re-traumatising. Where a trusting relationship has been built with a young person, there may be space to explore the reasons and emotions behind their decision, if this is appropriate. If a young person who has been fully informed of their options and their consequences decides not to become looked after and instead to accept accommodation under the Housing Act, their decision should be respected.
If you are concerned that the young person may lack capacity to make a decision, for example because they have a health condition that impacts their ability to make a decision, it may be worth considering whether they should be assessed under the Mental Capacity Act 2005.
11.5 Making services accessible
Some young people will have specific circumstances making engaging with Housing and Children’s Services more challenging. The young person may not always feel comfortable or think to disclose these circumstances outright. Professionals should try and identify whether that is the case and if so, take steps to facilitate the young person’s engagement with services. For example, the young person may need additional support or certain accommodations if they have caring responsibilities or are a young parent, if their immigration status is uncertain, if they do not speak English well or at all, if they are disabled, or if there are any safeguarding concerns or history which may, for example, prohibit them going to certain areas or mixing with people from those areas. On a practical side, there may be financial barriers that would affect remote contact or prevent travel and in-person attendance to the local authority.
Particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic, it has been important to ensure young people have digital access to online meetings – if possible, through the provision of smartphones and / or laptops and internet access. It is also important to consider digital skill and literacy and ensure young people are confident in using technology and online platforms.