Social workers should continue to be placed in young offender institutions following the success of a three-year pilot, according to an unpublished evaluation of the scheme, a top civil servant has said.
Jeremy Whittle, head of the Prison Service’s women and young people’s policy group, told Community Care the evaluation by children’s charity NCB, which will be published soon, was “very positive” and recommended extending the scheme.
The placement of social workers in each YOI began three years ago but funding beyond March 2008 is in the balance.
An investigation by Community Care earlier this year found 10.5 of the 25 social worker posts in YOIs were unfilled, as practitioners left because of funding doubts.
Whittle admitted it was “difficult to plan for the future” because the pilots had been initially funded for two years, and this had only been extended for a third year.
Prisons and probation ombudsman Stephen Shaw told the conference the absence of secure funding for the posts in YOIs “undermined safeguarding”.
Whittle told a seminar that social workers in YOIs reported that about 99% of young people in custody had been known to children and young people’s services at some point and called for local authorities to develop a strategy for their release. “If there isn’t an infrastructure in the community and all we can offer these young people is bed and breakfast accommodation, we are on a highway to nowhere,” he said.
Helen Teeden, head of safeguarding at Brinsford YOI, Wolverhampton, said a social worker placed with the institution had done a “remarkable job” and said the scheme had improved safeguarding practice.
She said the social worker could help the large number of looked-after children at Brinsford and expressed frustration that social services had “refused to see them” once they had entered custody.
Vicky O’Dea, governor of Ashfield YOI, near Bristol, said more than one-third of inmates were on care orders but were “dropped” by social services once they entered custody. She also echoed other delegates’ concerns about poor information-sharing between agencies that worked with young people before they entered custody and secure establishments.
Some professionals said youth offending teams and other youth justice agencies were not using the common assessment framework for children’s services, and O’Dea admitted that most prison officers “did not know what CAF was”.
Fran Russell, solicitor and legal policy adviser at charity Voice UK, which provides advocacy services for children in custody, pointed to the need for strategic planning for children in care for when they entered and left custody.
Russell added: “Local authorities breathe a sigh of relief when difficult children go into custody, and are resistant to dealing with them when they come out.”
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