Today's news, tomorrow’s lesson - Homeless teenager left to live in a tent

A homeless 16-year-old was forced to live in a tent for nearly nine months because of the failings of two local councils, an inquiry has found.

Today's news, tomorrow’s lesson - 8 August

Homeless teenager left to live in a tent

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A homeless 16-year-old was forced to live in a tent for nearly nine months because of the failings of two local councils, an inquiry has found.

Kent County Council and Dover District Council were criticised by local government ombudsman Anne Seex for what she described as their “inexcusable” conduct towards the teenager, referred to as “J”.

After being fostered between the ages of 12 and 14, the boy returned home to live with his mother, but was told to leave by her when he objected to a relationship she had entered into.

Over the next nine months, the teenager lived mostly in a tent. Ms Seex praised J as “remarkably determined and resilient” and praised him for keeping away from drugs and crime, both of which he had been involved with in the past.

The report said: “His tent was vandalised and his physical and mental health suffered.

“His feet were frequently wet, he had back pain and lost a lot of weight, and developed a chest infection.”

Despite being informed about the teenager’s plight by a youth centre worker, Kent’s children’s services failed to keep a record, resulting in a six month delay. The ombudsman ruled that in neglecting to respond to the information, Kent County Council had failed to fulfil its duties towards the teen under the Children Act 1989.

Dover District Council offered unsuitable accommodation for the teenager and when it offered a flat demanded an adult guarantor, but refused to accept Kent’s offer of a £1,000 guarantee. The ombudsman found the council had failed in its duties under the Housing Act 1996.

Both councils have been asked to pay J £5,500 in compensation and apologise to him in writing.

Campbell Robb, chief executive of Shelter, said that the case showed that many homeless 16 and 17-year-olds were still not getting the support they needed.

“Today's report highlights how vital it is that local authorities comply with their legal responsibility to implement effective joint protocols for assisting homeless 16 and 17-year-olds,” he said. “Without this, vulnerable young people can end up falling through the cracks between children's services and housing departments, leaving them out on the streets.”

Questions for discussion

For primary:

  • Why might it be difficult to live on the streets? What do you have at home that it would be hard to live without?
  • Who could J have talked to about his problems?

For secondary:

  • What do you think or feel when you walk past a homeless person on the street? Did reading this story change your views?
  • Do you think that homelessness is a serious problem in the UK? What could be done to address the issue and who should be responsible for tackling it?

Related resources

Meet Mick

  • Introduce your students to the complex issues surrounding homelessness with these lessons from TrueTube.

Who deserves a home?

  • Put your students in the position of a local council with this group exercise to decide which homeless person should be prioritised for housing.

Well-being of young people in supported housing

  • Comprising a practical guide and a training manual, this resource pack provides a framework for the development of practice in promoting the health and well-being of young people in supported housing.

Writing to describe/creative writing

  • This resource uses a variety of sources to help develop pupils’ empathy towards the homeless.

Further news resources

First News front page

  • Help your pupils understand the features of the front page of a newspaper.

Write all about it

  • Get students creating their own news report with this step-by-step guide

What is the News?

  • A sociological and media perspective on what makes an event 'newsworthy'.

On the box

  • Help pupils to write their own TV news broadcast with this handy PowerPoint.

Structuring stories

  • A scheme of work to help students structure news stories.

In the news this week

The most sophisticated space probe ever built has successfully landed on Mars to begin its 98-week search for the “ingredients of life” on the red planet.

London 2012 has opened with a week full of Olympic firsts for Team GB. While the first three days passed without a single gold for the host nation, the duck was finally broken by rowers Helen Glover and Heather Stanning.

The number of children labelled as having special educational needs (SEN) in England has fallen by almost 90,000 in just two years, official figures have revealed.

Anti-bullying charities have jumped to the defence of Team GB diving star and A-grade pupil Tom Daley after he found himself subject to a cyberbullying attack following his performance at London 2012.

In the news archive index

First News

8th August, First News Weekly News Bulletin, in association with Sky News, is a three minute round-up of the news every week - available every Wednesday. For previous weeks' bulletins, go to our First News website: