Families Experiencing Homelessness: Notification System
Initial Concept Document: Operation Affinity
In 2019, Shared Health Foundation published their Gold Standard Report1 which explored the difficulties facing homeless families and the agencies supporting them. The report proposed recommendations which would improve safeguarding, health, social and educational outcomes for families.
It was recognised a whole systems approach, incorporating multiagency and multidisciplinary working would support seamless and integrated service delivery. Current services are best placed to deliver care and support, with levels of trust and rapport already being established.
However, there is currently no system which enables key services, primarily health and education providers, to be alerted to housing and homelessness status their service-users are in. As such, existing services are unable to respond appropriately.
The need for a notification system was increasingly evident during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, where children who were already barely visible to the state support system were no longer receiving visits from community services2, safeguarding referral numbers dropped, health care systems prioritised vulnerable patients (where homeless families were not included), and homeless children were not automatically classed as vulnerable to access additional educational support3.
We propose a notification system which ensures at the point families register homelessness, relevant existing services are informed. With the onus being placed on systems, not families or children.
Our proposal is based on the success of Operation Encompass4. Operation Encompass is a police and education early information safeguarding partnership enabling schools to offer immediate support to children experiencing domestic abuse.
Operation Encompass ensures there is a simple telephone call or notification to a school’s trained Designated Safeguarding Lead /Officer (known as key Adult) prior to the start of the next school day after an incident of police attended domestic abuse where there are children related to either of the adult parties involved.
They have shown the sharing of information enables appropriate support to be given, dependent upon the needs and wishes of the child, which secures better outcomes for children. Additional training offered enables schools to better understand the impact living with domestic abuse be able to support and nurture each child. 4
Operation Encompasses has near full police force coverage nationally.
We propose a piloting of a notification system (Operation Affinity) in 1-2 boroughs of Greater Manchester before rolling out across all 10GM boroughs and wider.
Housing Team Responsibility:
Step One: At the point of homeless application
- Housing officer or main contact at Housing Persons Uni/Housing Options to ensure the following are collected:
- Name and contact details of GP practice where families are registered
- Name and contact of schools (and key Adult, where know) for ALL children.
- Consent collected to allow for information sharing with above parties/contacts.
NB: The reason for information sharing should be made clear, that this is about surrounding families with appropriate support at a difficult time, rather than ‘reporting them’ to various agencies. Parents may be experiencing shame and fear so this conversation should be handled with clarity and sensitivity to remove any barriers to consent. Shared Health will be issuing guidance to schools and GP’s detailing best ways to offer support to homeless families, and this information will also be shared with housing officers to help inform their conversations.
- Where family is not registered with a GP practice, Housing officer to advice of local health services (111, pharmacist and encourage GP registration).
Step Two: Within 48 hours of initial contact (exception only where initial contact made on Friday, step two to be completed following Monday).
- Housing officer to contact
- Key Adult at all schools involved/where children attending
- GP practice
- Best practice to be via telephone. Where unable to get contact, standardised email template to be sent. (Appendix 1)
Step Three: Changes during Homelessness Journey
- Where families are moved to new area or out of locality, Housing Officer to proactively manage the registration of new school(s) and GP practice(s) and hand over to the new relevant personnel of above to ensure an effective continuity of care.
GP Practice Responsibility:
- Create alert on patient record system (e.g., EMIS, SystemOne)
- GP practice to inform other relevant involved health services (e.g., Maternity services, CAMHs etc)
- If appropriate, register patient address as practice to ensure letter correspondence not lost. Ensure telephone number of patient(s) are accurate and up to date.
- Continue to provide evidence-based clinical holistic care to families.
- Continue to provide empathetic, compassionate education support.
- Minimise barriers to additional support (e.g., free school meals, uniform)
- Support the proposal that children who are homeless have the same rights to access education and support as other vulnerable children such as those in Looked After Care or Traveller communities.
Parallel Work Required:
- Engagement of Key Adult at schools to provide information, resources and training on how to support child who is homeless.
- Offer of provision by SHF in partnership with VCSE and education partners.
- Engagement with GP practices to provide information, resources and training on how to support adults and children who are homeless.
- Offer of provision by SHF in partnership with VCSE and health partners.
Additional Offer of Support
We recognise housing teams are stretched and more needs to be done to ensure wider understanding of cross-sector working and systems.
We, in partnership with Focused Care CIC, have been providing additional care and support to families experiencing homeless within Oldham and Salford housing teams. With health and social care backgrounds we straddle housing, education, health and VCSE sectors with an elastic remit and in-depth understanding of different systems.
Whilst we believe a sustainable model will be to ensure housing teams are equipped to implement Operation Affinity, we are happy to provide additional personnel (if additional funding can be secured) within housing teams across Steps One to Three, whilst this pilot is trialled.
We recognise there will be an initial commitment in time, and potential costs, however, are confident the long-term costs savings to the system through improved safeguarding and better health and social outcomes, reducing demand at a later date.
The Operation Affinity notification system will improve collaborative multi-sector working and research which will improve the lives of thousands of families, supporting them to break the cycle of homelessness.5
Additionally, through working together and sharing information we can support the safety and improvement in homelessness services.
We look forward to discussing this proposal further and ensure we continue to take this forward in a positive direction.
Manager and Clinician – Shared Health Foundation
Partnerships and Stakeholders – Shared Health Foundation
- Shared Health Foundation, Gold Standard Report https://www.sharedhealthfoundation.org.uk/publications
- Journal of Health Visiting VOL. 8, NO. 11. Families experiencing homelessness: Concerns and solutions
- Shared Health Foundation, Call To Action
- Operation Encompass, What We Do
- Journal of Social Work. Housing, Homelessness and Children’s Social Care: Towards an Urgent Research Agenda.