Care system fails young offenders - report

Anonymous young people in hoods One 16-year-old boy had been moved 31 times since the age of three

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Children in care in England and Wales who have been in trouble with the law are being failed by youth offending teams, says an inspection report.

The Inspectorate of Probation raised concerns about children placed far from home, and some youth offending team staff who thought little about the emotional impact of being in care.

Its report looked at 60 children, from about 3,000 supervised by the teams.

The Department for Education said plans were being developed to improve care.

The inspectorate, along with education watchdogs Ofsted and Estyn - which inspects standards in education and training in Wales - examined cases involving children who required supervision in order to stop them from committing crimes.

It found about a third of children were placed more than 100 miles away from home, and nearly two-thirds were placed 50 miles away.

Chief inspector of probation Liz Calderbank said: "What we don't do is underestimate the difficulties of dealing with these children and young people, they are some of the most difficult and most damaged within the system.

Start Quote

Sophie-Eliza Grinham

We do this to children and then expect them to grow up into reasonable adults”

End Quote Sophie-Eliza Grinham Former care home resident

"Some of them do need to be placed away from home for their own safety, and some need specialist care as well, and that may be only available in certain locations."

She added: "But from the sample that we looked at of 60 cases, in half of them we saw youth offending teams working very actively to maintain contact with their local families, local environment, so that raises the questions of whether the placement was in the child's best interests."

Regulations required local authorities to allow a child to live near their home, as far as reasonably practicable, the report said.

In one example, a 16-year-old boy had been moved 31 times since coming into care at the age of three, including one placement which lasted less than 24 hours.

Inspectors said one of the "most disappointing" findings was that some youth offending staff gave little thought to the emotional impact on children of being in care and what was needed to address their problems.

Basic checks were not made when placing these "vulnerable and potentially dangerous" children into homes, the report said, adding that examples had been found of sex attackers being placed with abuse victims.

Youth offending teams and and other agencies did not "always work effectively together in the best interests of the children", and poor planning and assessment meant insufficient protection for two-thirds of the children.

A fifth of the children had themselves been a victim of crime while under supervision of the youth offending team, and just over half the children inspected had offended within the care environment.

"What we saw in this inspection really shocked us," said Ms Calderbank. "All of of these things are impacting on their life chances - what we are seeing for these children are very poor outcomes.

"Many of them are growing up and then we fear drifting into the prison service or the mental health system."

'Encourage potential'

Youth offending team workers' aspirations for the children were "depressingly low", she added. The report said many staff had become "desensitised" and were "under-qualified".

A Department for Education spokesman said it was "completely unacceptable" that some local authorities and homes were failing children.

The director of the Prison Reform Trust, Juliet Lyon: "There is a well-trodden path from care into custody"

"Children placed far from their homes are extremely vulnerable. It is essential that local authorities responsible for them provide the vital support they need to keep them safe and well and to encourage their potential," he said.

"Three expert groups are currently developing proposals to improve the care provided by children's homes. They are due to report back shortly and we will respond on the action we intend to take in the New Year."

John Merry, vice-chair of the Local Government Association's Children and Young People Board, said there were often good reasons for placing a child in a residence some distance away from their home.

"This could be for their own safety, to break gang affiliation or to access specialist services," he said. "What is clear is that where children are placed out of area there needs to be better communication between all the agencies involved to make sure they receive the care and support they need."

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said it was not "altogether surprising that children in the circumstances that the inspectors are describing end up getting into more and more trouble, and quite possibly end up in the prison system.

Asked whether the problems were related to a lack of funding, Ms Lyon said: "I think it's lack of thought actually, and it's lack of leadership by government, both national and local government.

"This could be put right. We are not talking about vast numbers of children - we are talking about the most vulnerable children."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 158.


    Hardly rocket science is it, the best estates always contain a mix of people from varying social classes.

    The middle classes/well off don't live on estates do they. Of course housing estate problems aren't connected to lack of jobs/social mobility and poverty are they...

  • rate this

    Comment number 157.

    When children leave secure units they should not go home to the dysfunctional, chaotic families living in environments where crime and drug dealing are the way of life. If we are going to continue to invest vast sums of taxpayer money on such children we need to protect the investment and offer much more support to them on leaving care.

  • rate this

    Comment number 156.

    147.Poisoned Chalice
    'How many people have visited the area's they come from.It is not pleasant,sure caused by their peers but urban deprivation needs lookedat'

    Years ago - a couple of sink estates near to where I used to live were demolished & rebuilt with nice houses/low rise flats, open areas, park etc. It didn't take long for them to return to sink estates once the residents returned!

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    I completely agree with 150, we even have had parents providing children in secure units with drugs.
    The thoughtless and irresponsible have far too many children who they have neither the ability or the intention of supporting, financially,or emotionally they then "fly tip" them onto the care system when things go wrong and the rest of us are meant to foot the bill for irresponsible parenting.

  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    I think it's worth remembering, every time you hear a politician on the TV lecturing about declining standards of parenting etc that the state is actually by far the worst parent in this country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 153.

    These children are also some of the most damaged - emotionally and physically. Do we really expect that they will become some of Britain's finest citizens?
    Sometimes, I wonder if fostering out is the right answer; perhaps, it may be better to have local, communal homes with proper professionals - like psychologists & social workers: where abuse does not happen. It may even be more cost effective.

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    Anyone working within the youth justice system would be able to say that it does not cater for the most vulnerable. It didn't need a (no dobut) expensive bit of research to tell us that!! But why are youth offending teams being held to account for young people being placed far away from home? I would have thought they have very little say in this - if any at all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 151.

    I don't think you understand the 'care system' it brutalizes the staff and the clients.

    147.Poisoned Chalice

    Very well said.

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    To solve this problem, radical new approaches are needed, & that should invlove the big reduction of these kids being born in the 1st place. Prevent, dont cure. Parenting should be licensed, & if you cant prove a standard of behaviour/care prior to wanting children, then you should be prevented from doing so. Any child that born out of license is taken away & given to good people who cant concieve

  • rate this

    Comment number 149.

    Unsurprising really we have all these problems after 30+ years of governments and a certain generation stealing from the kids.

  • rate this

    Comment number 148.

    Isn't blaming the care system like suing a man for breaking your ribs when he performs CPR on you and saves your life? Can't we blame the scummy original parents or something?

  • rate this

    Comment number 147.

    I met several young boys in the YOI in which I worked.Removed from drink/drugs and toxic family environment, they were decent guys who suffered from poor decision making.They were realistic about what the outside world held for them, jail was a break for them.How many people have visited the area's they come from.It is not pleasant,sure caused by their peers but urban deprivation needs lookedat

  • rate this

    Comment number 146.

    I worked with young offenders at a secure unit for twenty years so i am well placed to comment upon the sad state of affairs in this area.
    To keep each individual costs more each week to their local Authorities than it costs to send a young person a top Public schools in this country! Yet it represents very poor value for money, with clients reoffending and returning into care after release.

  • rate this

    Comment number 145.

    Incredible how many people fail to grasp what the primary function of a prison is - to protect the public.
    That means the vitriolic tabloid approach of locking a minor up for years with no access to the outside world and no opportunity to earn qualifications and enrich their person is, put simply, moronic.
    It only serves to breed sociopaths with no stake in society.

  • rate this

    Comment number 144.

    Lock em up, that'll sort crime out, oh we do and it doesn't.

  • rate this

    Comment number 143.

    #102 totally agree and this it the tip of the iceberg that is a failing UK PLC

    #98 is might have gone up under thatcher but under labour they did not even get married in the first place or labour did not do anything in the 13 years of office to sort the problem they just made is worse by there social engineering policies

  • rate this

    Comment number 142.

    141. zrzavy
    ""Young offenders"? I can think of more accurate and appropriate terms than this very polite BBC diplomatic description. It is the so-called "young offenders" who have failed our society. No sympathy for them! Lock them up."

    I'm certainly no hand-wringer and think punishments are often far too lenient, but attitudes like yours are frankly unhelpful.

  • rate this

    Comment number 141.

    "Young offenders"? I can think of more accurate and appropriate terms than this very polite BBC diplomatic description. It is the so-called "young offenders" who have failed our society. No sympathy for them! Lock them up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 140.

    Hurrah for the brainless "all you need to do is lock 'em up/ hang 'em/ deport 'em/ teach 'em some discipline" brigade. Before you come marching on here with your nasty, lazy ill-thought-through prejudices try putting in some effort and finding out what approaches have been researched to be effective with these youngsters (and there's a fair bit on offer) and then lobby hard for them to be used.

  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    Care staff inform the child what is a right and wrong choice, and then inform them of the consequence of their action and what will happen if they do wrong. We have to trust them to do the right thing. That child knows the difference between right and wrong, but chooses the wrong. Care staff don’t give up with this message!


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