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
    +2

    Comment number 192.

    Over 30yrs in children's services and many years working and managing residential care, what I can say is that very often, despite the significant costs, the 'care system' is too little too late for many young people.

    The right placement at the right time and for the right length of time works, if the child can accept the help on offer. Too many are placed as a last resort and fight the system.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 170.

    I would so agree with the comments about the 'low aspirations' that some workers on Youth Offending Teams have for these young people. There is definitely a culture of 'going through the motions' with some of those I have come into contact with professionally.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 126.

    The chaotic lifestyle of the young people in the system is to blame,when a decision has been made to remove them from the family home,that should be it.Allow the kids to settle with a foster family or in a home with staff they can form positive relationships with.Don't keep sending them back to the Toxic Home environment. Care to Custodial is the current route with the present system.

  • rate this
    +16

    Comment number 114.

    I was put into care from the age of 5 and i was adopted at the age of 9. I have a full-time secure job and have done 8 years in the military. I do not have a criminal record and have never been in trouble with the police

    The responsibility also lays with the individual and should not be blamed wholly on the care system.

    We all have a choice in life....

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 111.

    What about the victims of the crimes that these young offenders carry out? They get very little support, and see the young offender get a soft punishment. There's no excuses for carrying out crimes. All to easy to blame their upbringing or the system. However, they still know what is right and wrong, and choose to go down the path they do. The buck stops with the offenders themselves.

 

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