Youth homelessness - information for professionals

Introduction of Cumbria`s Positive Housing Pathway (from 1 April 2020)

In 2019, we undertook a service review of our commissioned supported accommodation services for young people.  We also looked at models of national best practice and choose to adopt a Positive Housing Pathway model as devised by St Basil's.  From 1 April 2020, the County Council's service response to young people who are homeless or threatened with homelessness will be delivered through our Positive Housing Pathway model. 

Pathway Ambitions

Our ambition for the young people in our service is that:

  • Young people receive the right help at the right time.
  • Young people receive a service that is personalised to their individual needs, from a service offer which is consistent across the county. 
  • Young people who access our services go on to experience a bright and fulfilling future, free from the risk of homelessness.

Our ambition for this service is that, from the first point of contact with a young person who is experiencing homelessness/at risk of homelessness, everyone working in this service area sees the potential in that young person and plays their part in moving that young person from a point of crisis, to give them hope for the future.

1. Universal information and Advice

Our website includes information targeted at 3 core groups:

  • Young people
  • Parents/carers
  • Professionals. 

The website features short film clips of young people who have been in the service talking about their experience and giving advice to other young people in their situation.  All sections contain information about our Joint Protocol and contact details for the County Council Youth Homelessness and Housing Officers, who will work to support young people aged 16+ who are homeless or threatened with homelessness.  

The website has the most current version of the First Contact Script for 16 to 17 year olds (PDF 790KB), and First Contact Script for 18 to 24 year olds (PDF 811KB) this can be completed by any professional to help identify a young person's needs and to start their referral into the Pathway.  

We have developed two "Tackling Homelessness" lesson plans, which have been accredited by the PSHE Association and are available free of charge on the PSHE Website .  These aim to make young people aware of the realistic housing options for young people living independently aged 16+, talk about the financial aspects of living independently at an early age and signpost them to relevant support.  We are happy to co-deliver these in local schools, colleges or to other targeted groups.  For further details, please contact your local Youth Homeless and Housing Officer.

2. Early Help (Targeted) 

In addition to offering general advice and information, our Youth Homeless and Housing Officers will work with young people who are threatened with homelessness to explore their options and find an outcome that works for them.  Our starting point is always that young people are better off living at home or in the wider family network, if it is safe for them to do so.  We have well-established partnership working to ensure that the right agencies are supporting young people, based on their assessed need.  If additional support is needed for a young person or the risk around a young person is felt to be escalating, we can take these young people for discussion at one of our Early Help Panels (with their consent) to problem solve with a wide range of partner agencies. 

3. Gateway Group (Single Point of Access)

From 1 April 2020, we will have a Gateway Group, this will be our single point of access for the County in to the Young People's Housing Pathway.  It will discuss and allocate referrals into the Pathway; these referrals will be for emergency accommodation, short-term accommodation, homeless prevention and/ or flexible support.  It will oversee all the stages of the Pathway from referral to termination of support. It will be solution focused; it will facilitate multi-agency discussions based around the needs of the young person and the sustainability of the support.  The Group will meet fortnightly and will always have facilities for professionals to skype/telephone conference in to maximise attendance and minimise travelling.  The Group will be chaired by the Service Lead for Youth Homelessness in the County Council and core members will include district housing partners, short-term and emergency housing providers and other relevant local partners.

Cumbria has adopted a Signs of Safety approach and this has been built into the commissioned services; this will enable partners to adopt a strengths based approach with our young people. 

4. Commissioned Accommodation and Flexible Support 

In the Positive Housing Pathway, young people will receive a package of support based on their individual needs, which will be reviewed regularly.  This support will enable the young person to move on as a self-sufficient adult, able to manage their own tenancy.  Young people will be discussed by the Gateway Group at the point of referral and providers will be able to bring young people, who are experiencing problems in their tenancy or who have unmet needs, back to the Group for discussion and/or identification of relevant actions/other sources of support.  Providers will be expected to fully engage in the Gateway Group discussions and to be proactive about bringing back those young people experiencing problems so that we can actively manage tenancies and retain the young person within the Pathway as much as possible. 

From 1 April, we have a flexible support offer, in addition to the specialist support offered by the Youth Homeless and Housing Officers.  These posts will operate alongside the Youth Homeless and Housing Officers and will offer tenure neutral flexible support to young people.  This will mean that for older young people (18+), who may not wish to live in supported accommodation, we will work with our district partners to look at alternative housing solutions, including the private rented sector, and will attach support to the young person to give them the best chance of succeeding in their chosen tenancy.  Flexible support will be allocated via discussions at the Gateway Group and could even be used to offer additional support to a young person in supported accommodation, based on their unmet needs.

5. Range of Housing Options

We work closely with our district partners and with our supported accommodation providers, to assist young people to move on to suitable accommodation.  The partnership working which has evolved through the past 5 years of developing and implementing our Joint Protocol has meant that we have good networks in place and can find creative solutions to enable our young people to progress through to a home, whether that is in social housing, the private rented sector or whether that equates to a return home.  Our flexible support offer means that we will offer young people who are moving into their own independent tenancy for the first time, a period of support through that transitional period so that they are supported to get everything in place that they need. 

As Baroness Hale pointed out in the Southwark judgement, very few 16-17 year olds who present as homeless, will have a pure housing need.  Young people often have a range of complex needs, which if they are not supported to overcome/address, can prevent them from moving on and result in a problematic housing history with repercussions for later life. 

In recognition of this, there has been a significant amount of partnership work that has been undertaken in Cumbria since 2013, aimed at improving our response to young people who present as homeless, developing consistent and effective partnership working that uses the good professional judgement from a range of organisations and makes best use of our evolving Early Help offer.  Our Joint Protocol has been in place since 2013 and there are several key aspects to our approach which are different to what has gone before.  More information can be found on the Joint Protocol section.