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These photos show shock conditions lived in by some of Norfolk's most vulnerable teenagers leaving council care

PUBLISHED: 08:00 01 March 2017 | UPDATED: 10:55 02 March 2017

Photos show the inside of homes where Sixteen Plus was paid to place teenagers leaving the care of Norfolk County Council's children's services department. Photo: Submitted

Photos show the inside of homes where Sixteen Plus was paid to place teenagers leaving the care of Norfolk County Council's children's services department. Photo: Submitted

Archant

These photos reveal the dreadful conditions some of Norfolk's most vulnerable young people have lived in at homes paid for with taxpayers' cash.

They show damaged rooms full of broken furniture, a door with a large hole in it, mould around windows, a badly damaged garden fence and a trashed bathroom, as well as pile after pile of rubbish.

The pictures were taken at homes rented from private landlords by a firm called Sixteen Plus who house young people leaving the care of Norfolk County Council’s children’s services department.

The pictures were taken at three different homes in Norfolk.

Sixteen Plus was given a four-year deal worth £4.4m by the council in 2014 to provide supported accommodation for 16 to 18-year-olds who are known as care leavers and received £1.56m last year.

Photos previously taken at properties rented by Sixteen Plus and paid for by Norfolk County Council. Photo: SuppliedPhotos previously taken at properties rented by Sixteen Plus and paid for by Norfolk County Council. Photo: Supplied

They live at the homes with support workers who are hired by Sixteen Plus to help the teenagers get their lives back on track and prepare for life after care.

The council said they had inspected Sixteen Plus homes immediately after seeing the photos in February and found they were “well maintained”.

“The day to day cleaning of the property is down to the resident, as it would be with any tenancy agreement and we would expect young people to look after the property appropriately,” a spokesperson said.

Sixteen Plus, meanwhile, said they had not used the homes in the photos since 2016 and the pictures showed the condition of a property as it was left by the teenagers.

Photos previously taken at properties rented by Sixteen Plus and paid for by Norfolk County Council. Photo: SuppliedPhotos previously taken at properties rented by Sixteen Plus and paid for by Norfolk County Council. Photo: Supplied

They said all damage was repaired and when the care leavers moved in, the homes were in good condition.

The accommodation is classed as “unregulated” by children’s services, meaning it is not inspected by Ofsted.

A former support worker at Sixteen Plus, who made us aware of the conditions the teenagers lived in, said: “I think it is disgusting. I was shocked by the photos.”

He said he has repeatedly complained to the firm over the last two years about the homes and services.

Photos previously taken at properties rented by Sixteen Plus and paid for by Norfolk County Council. Photo: SuppliedPhotos previously taken at properties rented by Sixteen Plus and paid for by Norfolk County Council. Photo: Supplied

“The care they are providing for these young people is wrong,” he claimed.

The former worker alleged the young people, who the council hopes to get into education, training or employment, mainly sat around watching television rather than preparing for their futures.

He claimed low-skilled workers were being employed by Sixteen Plus as support workers, who were being paid just above the minimum wage, with little understanding of the youngsters’ complex needs.

“Some of these people coming in as support workers will not do anything with the young people,” he alleged. “Their (Sixteen Plus) training regime is not up to scratch.”

Photos taken at properties rented by Sixteen Plus and paid for by Norfolk County Council. Photo: SuppliedPhotos taken at properties rented by Sixteen Plus and paid for by Norfolk County Council. Photo: Supplied

One advert for support workers for the Peterborough-based company reads: “You’ll support individuals with a wide range of daily tasks such as cleaning and cooking, plan for their futures in many different ways.”

A spokesperson for the company said it provided “a comprehensive training programme” for staff which took place each week.

The complaints were taken to Norfolk County Council by UKIP councillor Jonathon Childs who said: “I was made aware of some horrific allegations of conditions that vulnerable young people were living in. I arranged a meeting with the whistleblowers and children’s services as soon I could.”

He added: “I believe the concerns of the whistleblowers have been dealt with in the correct manner (by the council), but the question that haunts me is how could any vulnerable person be left to live in such horrific conditions? It’s not acceptable.”

Photos taken at properties rented by Sixteen Plus and paid for by Norfolk County Council. Photo: SuppliedPhotos taken at properties rented by Sixteen Plus and paid for by Norfolk County Council. Photo: Supplied

The photos show trashed furniture as well as filthy conditions in kitchens, rubbish piled up and a general state of disrepair in the homes.

A council spokesperson added: “Our social workers regularly visit care leavers to ensure their welfare and listen to any concerns. Additionally we hold monitoring visits and meetings with Sixteen Plus to ensure the quality of their provision.”

Sixteen Plus, which received £1.56m from the council last year, added that its landlords had been satisfied with the condition of the homes when given back to them and returned any deposits.

Photos taken at properties rented by Sixteen Plus and paid for by Norfolk County Council. Photo: SuppliedPhotos taken at properties rented by Sixteen Plus and paid for by Norfolk County Council. Photo: Supplied

‘These kids are on the road to nowhere’

A vulnerable young man was forced to sleep rough after a support worker locked him out of accommodation he was not allowed keys for.

And now his mother, who wants to remain anonymous, has spoken out about the care provided by Sixteen Plus – the company paid by Norfolk County Council’s children’s services to look after young people aged 16 to 18.

The woman’s son has autism and epilepsy and lives in accommodation provided by the company due to his complex needs.

Photos taken at properties rented by Sixteen Plus and paid for by Norfolk County Council. Photo: SuppliedPhotos taken at properties rented by Sixteen Plus and paid for by Norfolk County Council. Photo: Supplied

She said: “The first six months were brilliant, but some good staff left and it’s been bad since around June 2016.”

She said her son used to have a main support worker, but after a change in approach from Sixteen Plus which limited how long one staff member could spend with each young person, he is now mostly looked after by a rotation of agency staff.

“He had been at the accommodation since November 2015 but he wasn’t allowed a key. So when the staff member finished their shift at 11pm, they locked the door and he had to spend the night sleeping rough,” she said.

Support workers stay in the houses and while the woman did not have an issue with the accommodation itself, she was concerned about her son’s care.

Photos taken at properties rented by Sixteen Plus and paid for by Norfolk County Council. Photo: SuppliedPhotos taken at properties rented by Sixteen Plus and paid for by Norfolk County Council. Photo: Supplied

“In my mind, if you are a carer you would not go to bed if you knew that person wasn’t home,” she said.

The mother said she had submitted numerous complaints to Sixteen Plus about the way they operate, including about communication and the use of agency workers.

“It’s little wonder so many of [the young people] end up in mental health hospitals, on drugs, or in prison,” she said. “They’re not teaching them or helping them in any way, shape or form.

“Most of these kids are on the road to nowhere because they’re not being taught anything, they’re not being shown how life can be.”

Photos taken at properties rented by Sixteen Plus and paid for by Norfolk County Council. Photo: SuppliedPhotos taken at properties rented by Sixteen Plus and paid for by Norfolk County Council. Photo: Supplied

She said she was the exception to the rule in being involved in her son’s care, whereas many families did not have any contact.

“If I was their parent, I would fear for them,” she added.

•Do you have a story which needs investigating? Email tom.bristow@archant.co.uk or call 01603 772834

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