Disturbing Trends in Youth Accommodation Revealed
Voicing the Void Advocates for Vulnerable Youth
Voicing the Void Advocates for Vulnerable Youth: Disturbing Trends in Youth Accommodation Revealed
Belfast, November 16th, 2023 - A recent Freedom of Information (FOI) request across the five trust areas has revealed an alarming trend: over the past year, 86 young people, all under the age of 18, have been placed in temporary accommodations such as B&Bs and hotels. This discovery has raised serious questions about the safety and well-being of our most vulnerable youth.
The FOI inquiry included a crucial query: "Can you confirm that all staff/percentage of staff (not only owners/managers) working within the B&B or hotel have been Access NI checked prior to placing a young person there?" Shockingly, the Trust could not confirm that all staff undergo Access NI checks before a young person's placement, citing that such checks were outside their remit.
Here's a breakdown of the numbers across the five trust areas:
Northern Health and Social Care Trust: 39 placements
Western Health and Social Care Trust: 29 placements
Belfast Health and Social Care Trust: 7 placements
South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust: 6 placements
Southern Health and Social Care Trust: 5 placements
Total: 86 placements
The most concerning aspect of this data is the vulnerability of these young individuals, many of whom are facing crises and extreme stress. Placing them in accommodations ill-suited for their needs can expose them to exploitation, a situation that demands immediate attention.
In particular, the Belfast Trust saw seven young individuals placed in unregulated accommodations, and the trust made it clear that vetting checks on accommodation staff were not within their remit. This revelation underscores the urgent need for improved safeguards for young people within the care system.
Tragically, in January 2020, the story of Gabby Connelly came to light. Under the care of the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, Gabby was placed in an unregulated B&B, where she became a victim of a serious sexual assault. The trauma she endured, compounded by long waiting times for counselling, had a devastating impact on her mental health. Sadly, Gabby passed away from a drug-related incident before receiving the counselling she desperately needed.
Gabby's mother, Lisa Arthurs, reflects on her daughter's experience, saying:
"After what happened to my daughter Gabby in unregulated accommodation, I am determined to ensure that no other young person or family has to go through what we are experiencing. We had been reassured that the trust was no longer using these types of accommodations, but these recent FOIs are shocking.
As a society, we need to stand up for those who are most vulnerable. If you had a daughter or son who was only 16/17, would you want them staying somewhere where no checks were carried out on the staff or other adults, including potential sex offenders?
I thought, especially after the brutal murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman by Ian Huntley, that vetting those working closely, let alone in the same accommodation, would be necessary practice."
Gabby's story prompted a critical question: Are staff working in these accommodations properly vetted? The response from the Trust was unsettling: they could not confirm that all staff undergo Access NI checks before a young person's placement. They reiterated that such checks were beyond their remit.
In response to this tragedy and subsequent revelations, the "Justice for Gabby" campaign was launched, aiming to end the use of unregulated accommodations for vulnerable young individuals aged 16-18. This movement gained momentum due to the distressing discovery that many young individuals faced sexual assaults in these unmonitored settings. Our petition, advocating for mandatory Access NI checks for all staff in such accommodations, has garnered over 2,000 signatures.
The "Justice for Gabby" campaign has garnered support from various stakeholders, including former Children’s Commissioner Koulla Yiasouma and the Permanent Secretary for the Department of Health, Peter May. An investigative report from the Belfast Trust underscored multiple failings, further emphasizing the urgency of the situation.
Rory Doherty, CEO of Voicing the Void, asserts, 'Our organization is steadfast in its commitment to give voice to those who are voiceless, especially the most vulnerable among us. Placing young individuals in unregulated accommodations is not only unacceptable but also a grave injustice. Stories like Gabby's serve as a stark reminder of the urgent need for change. We call upon all stakeholders to join us in advocating for the safety and well-being of our youth within the care system. Together, we can ensure that every young person is shielded from such hardships on their journey to a brighter future.’
Voicing the Void remains steadfast in its commitment to advocating for essential changes to ensure the safety and well-being of young people in temporary accommodations.
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