The Youth Justice Board’s decision to reduce the number of places
in council secure children’s homes (LASCHs) is “disgraceful,
outrageous and ludicrous” according to campaigners and politicians.
Last week, the YJB announced it would reduce the number of beds
commissioned from both the Prison Service and LASCHs, and increase
the number of places in privately-run secure training centres
(STCs), which it believes provide better value.
Labour MP and former social worker Hilton Dawson called the
decision “disgraceful and completely outrageous”. “I question
whether a body that makes this decision is fit to care for
children,” he said.
Dawson said that whereas staff working in LASCHs were qualified and
expected to work in accordance with Children Act 1989 principles,
staff in STCs were not obliged to ensure that children were
safeguarded under the act. LASCHs are also inspected under the act,
and while the Social Services Inspectorate monitors STCs, it would
not measure whether an STC was complying with the act, although it
would report on conditions at a centre.
Adrian Thomas, spokesperson for rehabilitation agency Nacro, said
LASCHs provide the “most appropriate regime” and ensure children
“are treated as children first, and offenders second”.
Fran Russell, the Howard League for Penal Reform’s assistant
director, also warned that STCs do not offer a comparable service
to LASCHs. “The whole ethos is about containment and punishment and
not about the welfare of the child, which is key to reducing
Yvonne Scholes, whose son Joseph killed himself in Stoke Heath
Young Offenders Institution, accused Tony Blair of reneging on an
agreement made on Tonight with Trevor McDonald last year,
that the government wanted to expand the number of LASCHs “as fast
as we can”.
Joseph, who had a history of depression, self-harm and suicide
attempts, should have been placed in a LASCH, but he was placed in
a YOI because of a shortage of beds.
“If fewer beds are available, more children will be at risk,”
Chairperson of the Secure Accommodation Network Roy Walker, fears
some LASCHs could be forced into closure.
– Dawson told Community Care he intends to apply for the
children’s commissioner position created through the children’s