Children as young as 11 are being put in Airbnbs and B&B accommodation – as one 17-year-old tells Michael Sheen in documentary: ‘I know for a fact prison would have been better’
- Across Wales, children in care were placed in B&Bs at least 50 times last year
- Six years ago, the Welsh Government said it wants to ‘eliminate’ the practice
- An 11-year-old was put in an Airbnb with council staff due to a lack of options
- A 16-year-old said she was housed with a drug dealer after becoming ‘clean’
- Niall, 17, said prison would have been 10 times better than his living situation
Children as young as 11 are being put in Airbnbs and B&B accommodation in Wales, as record numbers of children enter the care system, as one 17-year-old tells activist actor Michael Sheen in a new documentary that ‘prison would have been better’.
Niall, who was placed in a B&B in South Wales when he was 17, was housed alongside people who had just left prison.
His place at a children’s home had broken down, having moved in and out of care from the age of 14.
And he was not the only one. Last year, at least 50 children were housed in B&Bs, with more than 250 in other types of unregulated care.
As part of the documentary, Michael Sheen: Lifting The Lid On The Care System, it was discovered that an an 11-year-old was housed in an Airbnb with council support staff due to a lack of options, while another said she was housed alongside a drug dealer after becoming ‘clean’ from her heroin addiction.
Children as young as 11 are being put in Airbnbs and B&B accommodation in Wales, as revealed by Michael Sheen in a new documentary
‘I got robbed a couple of times and someone climbed through my window took my clothes, food, money,’ Niall told the BBC documentary.
He remembered watching people ‘kicking down doors on a daily basis’ in the accommodation.
‘There would be people smashing windows, people carrying knives,’ he added.
From there, he moved into a hostel, which Niall described as ‘one of the worst places I’ve ever lived’.
‘At one point, I was just trying to do anything to get behind prison because I know for a fact prison is a 10 times better place,’ he said.
He remembered barricading his door to try and stop others from getting into his room.
‘It was like they put all the troubled teenagers under one roof,’ he added.
Caerphilly council insisted that the hostel was supported housing, as it worked to find a permanent place for Niall, it told the BBC.
It added that council staff offered Niall support, and has improved its systems since then, not placing any children in B&Bs last year.
Niall, who was placed in a B&B in South Wales when he was 17, said that ‘prison would have been better’ than one of his living arrangements
Across Wales, children, mostly 16 to 17, were placed in B&Bs at least 50 times last year, despite the Government wanting to ‘eliminate’ the practice six years ago.
At least a further 285 were also placed in unregulated accommodation.
Unlike formal accommodation options, B&Bs, along with budget hotels are not inspected and regulated by care watchdogs.
Locals authorities say that these options are often a last resort for children in care, with support workers put in place around the clock for those under the age of 16.
In one case, an 11-year-old was housed in an Airbnb with council support staff because there was ‘nowhere else to go’, the BBC reported.
Hope, who also features in the documentary, entered the care system aged 14 and ran away two years later due to challenges with her foster placement.
She had previously been living with her grandparents, but they were no longer able to care for her.
She then slept rough, sharing a tent with an adult.
‘Nobody knew where I was,’ she told the BBC. ‘I was technically a child of the state. It wasn’t okay… I was at risk.’
In the documentary, she said the council then placed her in a hostel, which was also home to someone who had assaulted her.
During that time, she has her possessions stolen, Hope said.
‘I will fight… to make sure that this process doesn’t happen in the same way it happened to me, and to make sure this changes,’ she added.
Hope, while 16, ran away from her foster placement and slept rough, sharing a tent with an adult. Pictured, Hope, now in her early 20s
Activist Michael Sheen a ‘not-for-profit actor’
Last year, the Hollywood actor pledged to help fund charity projects with his earnings.
‘I’ve essentially turned myself into a social enterprise, a not-for-profit actor,’ he told the BBC at the time.
As part of this, he pledged £50,000 over five years to support Welsh students at Oxford University.
The actor previously sold his houses to ensure the 2019 Homeless World Cup went ahead in Cardiff.
The actor’s new documentary, Michael Sheen: Lifting The Lid On The Care System, has been filmed over almost three years.
It tells the stories of young people in Wales who were housed in B&Bs and hostels as teenagers in the care system.
The hour-long documentary aligns with the actor’s previous petition, which he presented to the Welsh Government in 2016.
In it, he called on the country to stop placing children in the care system in B&Bs and hostels.
Writing in a BBC article, the Welsh actor said: ‘My personal view is that we shouldn’t tolerate that some young people just disappear and the worst possible things imaginable happen to them.
‘Children who, from the beginning and often through no choice of their own, find themselves in circumstances that already makes things harder for them than it does for anyone else.’
Wrexham council said that it has transformed its services since then, and would use Hope’s experience of the care system for further improvements.
Gemma, whose name was changed in the documentary, said that she was exploited by older men, before being taken into care after becoming addicted to heroin aged 14.
She had moved house 12 times by the time she was 15.
At 16, she was offered to stay in a hostel, which she said was also housing a drug dealer who she had previously bought from.
‘I’d just spent nine months getting clean,’ she said. ‘They then placed me in this hostel where he was anyway. I was there less than a week before I was back on drugs.’
Children’s charities in England and Wales believe that many young people still feel they’re not getting the support they need.
Across England and Wales, there are a record number of children under the care of councils, with emergency accommodation sometimes the only option.
The Welsh Local Government Association, which oversees the 22 local authorities in the country, said that it is committed to doing its best to respond to the growing demands.
The Welsh deputy minister for social services, Julie Morgan MS, said the focus should be on stopping so many children entering the care system, and described the examples in Sheen’s documentary as heartbreaking.
‘What we really want to do is put as much support as we possibly can to parents and children at an earlier age,’ she told Sheen.
‘Crises do happen, placements break down, families break down… and the children have to be put somewhere… we don’t accept that that should be the situation and we’re trying to do things to stop that.’
It added that most people in foster care have a positive experience.
While England has a ban on under 16s being placed in B&B style accommodation, thousands are still housed in places that are ‘not properly inspected’ the BBC reported.
The care watchdog is expected to publish more detailed plans later this year.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast this morning, Mr Sheen spoke about the petition he handed into the Welsh Government six years ago calling for the country to stop placing children in the care system in B&Bs and hostels.
‘It’s still happening,’ he said. ‘Dozens of children are still being placed in places putting them at risk, and hundreds more in forms of unregulated accommodation.
‘What gets to me is these are children… the most vulnerable of the vulnerable, who are unable to be looked after their parents or in loving households, and are then put at risk by the very system that is supposed to be looking after them
‘And then they’re at risk of all kinds of things. It seems like there is a basic unfairness. These children should be looked after more than anything else not less so.
‘The system that they’re in just reflects back to them that they don’t matter… that they’re not loved, they don’t have any worth.’