Last year, the Youth Justice Board suggested that open children’s homes – along with open sections of secure children’s homes, residential special schools, therapeutic communities and mental health settings – could be considered as suitable accommodation options for some children and young people who do not require the relatively high level of security that currently applies to all those held in the secure estate.
Now, the new Offender Management Bill is proposing that young people given a detention and training order (DTO) need no longer spend the detention element of their sentence in a secure setting, but in other forms of youth detention accommodation – including open children’s homes.
But, according to the official literature, DTOs are only given to young people who represent a high level of risk, have a significant offending history or are persistent offenders, and where no other sentence will manage their risks effectively.
The 12- to 17-year-olds in receipt of these orders require specialist and intensive support to help them manage and change their behaviour. Yes, this could be provided in an open, therapeutic setting in the community. But, no, this should not be provided by children’s residential staff in the place that children in care call home.
The YJB itself argues that all institutions within the secure estate for children and young people should be run by staff who are adequately trained in this area of work, and who have completed nationally approved training in ffective practice work with young offenders.
The other issue is stability. The detention element of a DTO lasts between two months and a year. The result is a relatively high turnover of young people, a situation that could further disrupt home life for children in care if the two groups were forced to live side by side.
Young offenders would undoubtedly do better in a therapeutic setting.
But their progress must not be at the expense of children in care, who could end up further stigmatised and possibly placed at greater risk by an attempt to merge the care of these two groups of vulnerable young people. Young offenders need their own specialist children’s homes manned by specially trained staff, not spare rooms in existing homes for children in care.
Directors round on plans to place young offenders in children’s homes