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A Christmas present from a Princess – how can a passion project help children facing homelessness?

At a time where families are becoming increasingly isolated from their normal support systems the percentage of parental loneliness has increased from 38% to 63%[1] during the pandemic. Parental loneliness especially for those who are single parents looking after their children may increase, as parents who usually rely on social activities with friends to take some time away and relieve stress are now unable to do so. Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, has chosen this backdrop as the time to announce her plans to implement her passion project to help families and their young children. Kate Middleton’s ‘passion project’ looks at ways to help under-fives and their families with the earliest years of their children’s lives and how small changes could affect them once they have reached adulthood.

Kate Middleton has been working with families including young children for the past 9 years and recently thanked these families on her Twitter account after breaking the record for the largest study based on young children, with half a million people responding to her survey.

The answers to the questions posed in her survey earlier this year were announced in full at the end of November, looking at areas such as mental-health, education and homelessness amongst children and their parents. The survey looked at how these factors would have an effect on children under the age of 5 in the future. Following the results of her survey, the Duchess noted that she had ‘seen that experiences such as homelessness, addiction and poor mental health are often grounded in a difficult childhood’.

Having worked with many young families ourselves we are already painfully aware of how much of an effect homelessness can have on children and their mental health, and even more importantly how this often goes unnoticed at this crucial age when their parents are facing homelessness and asking the local authority for help.

The affordable housing crisis in the UK means that many families will be housed outside of the borough they approached and where their child may be attending school. The laws around Homelessness as well as case law including Nzolomeso v Westminster [2015] PTSR 549 agreed that this circumstance should be avoided if at all possible, and yet many councils place up to 60% of their homeless households out of their own borough. Which families are prioritised for local housing tends to be restricted to those with children in GCSE years.

Even where evidence is available that the school is supporting a child’s needs and well-being, younger children are often described as being reasonably expected to relocate to new schools and new areas, sometimes hundreds of miles from their usual home.

Uprooting a child during their early school years requires them to absorb new surroundings, meet new teachers who may have a different style of teaching to what they are used to, and force them to make new friends. These are just some of issues kids of the same age who are settled will not have to face. The settled child will focus on new skills during their early life without having to re-adjust to their surroundings, therefore putting a child who is facing homelessness during their early years at a disadvantage compared to a child who is not forced to relocate and register at a new school.

Kate Middleton highlighted the fact that early childhood and development during this time was one of her major concerns which she wishes to address. Looking into homelessness and education simultaneously as part of the survey, it would be small changes such as considering young children during the re-housing stage which could help shape their future and should be implemented by the government and local authorities going forward. Both Tulip Siddiq from the Labour Party and Neil Leitch the Chief Executive of Early Years Alliance have backed the survey carried out by the Duchess of Cambridge, with Neil Leitch saying ‘it is vital that those in power recognise the survey’s findings’.[2]

The Duchess of Cambridge made it clear that children below the age of 5 should receive greater protection as a result by ensuring they are provided with vital services to support the families. However, it will be interesting to see which services are implemented by the government to reflect this after the passion project received such widespread media attention. The pressures on local authorities to source suitable, affordable housing in light of shortages and benefit cuts will mean that the research may well simply fall by the wayside.  Without practical support and funding to help implement these recommendations, the Duchess’ conclusions will not achieve their aim of improving the lives of children at risk of homelessness.