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Sunday, 16 December, 2001, 12:23 GMT
Homeless families 'being split up'
Homeless person
Some families consider sleeping rough
A leading housing charity has accused social services of splitting up homeless families in the run-up to Christmas.

Shelter says it is coming across an increasing number of cases where social workers offer to put children into care but refuse to house parents with them.

The charity cites a case of four children being put into care when their family was evicted after falling into rent arrears due to money problems, including difficulties claiming housing benefit.

No one should underestimate... the damaging lifelong effects we know living in care has on children

Chris Holmes, Shelter
Shelter says other families have slept rough rather than be parted.

Chris Holmes, director of Shelter, said: "We are astonished that children are being taken into care simply because their family is homeless.

"This is literally tearing families apart. We want the government to act urgently to change the law."

Interpretation of law

Social workers are not obliged to house people who are deemed intentionally homeless - which they are if they are evicted for not paying the rent.

The charity alleges 10 social services departments have told parents they will take their children into care but will not help otherwise.

The policy is acceptable because of recent court cases interpreting the Children's Act.

But Shelter says this "flies in the face" of the act's intentions of the Children's Act.

The fundamental principle of the act is to keep families together, not split them up, Mr Holmes said.

The government says it is looking into the matter but is committed to the upbringing of children in need through their families.

The BBC's John Sudworth
"Housing families in Bed and Breakfasts is a very expensive short term solution"
See also:

03 Dec 01 | UK
Life on the streets goes on
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