The Youth Justice Board has been accused of “burying” a report that shows up to nine out of 10 child prisoners have been abused before they enter custody but do not get the help they need.
The unpublished report by leading children’s experts, leaked to Community Care, finds levels of sexual abuse, domestic violence and physical neglect among children in custody are “significantly higher” than those suffered by children in the general population.
The report, which was completed in November 2006, says specialist therapeutic support for children in custody is “rare” and suggests that improving services could be “expensive”. It cites “serious obstacles” to improving therapeutic services including a lack of trained staff and resources.
“There is currently caution and nervousness…about opening up this ‘can of worms’ without the training and resources to deal with what may emerge,” the report says.
About 3,000 children have been in custody at any one time over the past year. This high number is cited as a barrier to therapeutic work, particularly when children are held in prisons some a distance from home.
The report’s recommendations for the YJB include making measures to address child abuse a contractual requirement for child prisons.
It also calls for the YJB to consider putting together a costed bid from the next government spending review, covering 2008-11, or other possible sources of funding to implement the recommendations.
The report’s authors also recommend that the study, which includes a literature review, should be widely disseminated among youth offending teams, local safeguarding children’s boards and children’s services departments. Yet several members of the expert taskforce behind the study are understood to have “expressed displeasure” that the report has not been published.
One source close to the Youth Justice Board told Community Care the YJB had not published it for fear of appearing “soft” on young offenders.
This week, a YJB spokesperson said the board intended to publish the literature review but not the full report, which had been only intended for “internal management”.
She added the report had been discussed with “relevant stakeholders”.
The news follows a torrid month for the Youth Justice Board, in which its annual report revealed it was on course to miss most of its key targets, and it was criticised by the inquest into the death of Gareth Myatt at Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre in 2004.
Frances Crook, director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “The Youth Justice Board is apparently missing its targets in cutting reoffending rates among children. Considering the YJB are burying important reports such as this one, which draws attention to some of the underlying causes of crime among the young, their current travails should be no surprise.
“If the YJB is to be something other than a mere extension of the Prison Service, then it has to start grappling with the strategic issues and not suppress valuable contributions by leading authorities on children.”
Penny Nicholls, strategy director for The Children’s Society, said: “The high levels of psychological, emotional and physical harm experienced by children on their road to custody are well documented. Radical changes are needed – a large reduction in the numbers sent to custody and investment in specialist staff and facilities for the few that would still go there”.