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
    +36

    Comment number 12.

    If you had only seen some of the young children my nephew and niece have fostered and been aware of what they had already suffered at 2 years of age it would make you cry for them.

    The thing that bothers me is that they let the parents of these children keep on breeding.

  • rate this
    +32

    Comment number 23.

    @4
    I never offended as a kid either, but then again my Mum's boyfriend never put cigs out on my arm as a toddler and my Mum never sent me to school without breakfast and a packed lunch and went out to the pub every evening to leave me to sort out my own tea and wake me up to tell me how she wished she never had me when she came in at 2am. Wonder how I would have turned out if this was my lot.

  • rate this
    +25

    Comment number 11.

    "the article is written almost makes it seem as young offenders are entitled to be cared for... Neither my family nor I were ever supported by the state and I never offended... "

    Many young offenders will have been brought into a life of no role models, poor discipline, drugs, abuse etc. Yes they deserve a chance of care, and an improved future. Lucky you to have a family which never needed help.

  • rate this
    +22

    Comment number 31.

    Until the Reformers accept that early intervention is normally the best answer the system will fail. Limited resources are wasted on hopeless cases whilst support for the newer and easier to reform offenders is patchy. As a Police sergeant I long considered that 'Care' was an almost certain route to prison, wereas early strong help would have paid dividends.Expensive but it works.

  • rate this
    +21

    Comment number 32.

    #19: "rediscover a sense of patriotism and national pride which I believe only really still exists in the over 30 generation"

    Speak for yourself, I'm 20 and very patriotic and so are many of my friends. On-topic, what these children need is stability more than anything else, we need to reduce barriers to adoption and fostering so applicants aren't turned down for petty reasons.

 

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