A senior Youth Justice Board official has expressed reservations about proposals to hand over more reponsibility for youth justice to children’s trusts.
Bob Ashford, head of youth justice strategy at the YJB, made the comment following the publication of leaked proposals from the forthcoming Youth Crime Action Plan.
According to media reports, the Home Office wants children’s trusts to take over responsibility for youth crime and youth offending teams from the YJB. This could include taking over the role of buying places in the juvenile secure estate.
Ashford told MPs this week that while he wanted to see children’s services being given more accountability for dealing with young offenders, he did not want responsibility for youth justice “just to go to one agency.”
He said: “Children’s trusts are largely untried and untested… they are entirely different in terms of their development. If lead responsibility were to be handed to those agencies – or any other agency, but particularly children’s trusts – we would have some reservations about how prepared and ready they were.”
Children’s trusts refer to the partnership arrangements set up to integrate children’s services in local areas, under the Children Act 2004. As they are not a legal entity, it is not clear where accountability would lie, under any proposal to give them responsibility for youth justice, though local authorities could take on this role.
Giving evidence to the Commons Children, Schools and Families select committee inquiry into looked-after children, Ashford also revealed that there would no longer be a separate resettlement green paper for young offenders, as previously planned. He said this would instead be incorporated into the Youth Crime Action Plan, expected next month.
Who will foot the bill?
Ashford also questioned whether local authorities would be able to foot the bill for the placement of social workers in young offender institutions. The posts in all 25 YOIs in England and Wales were created three years ago by the Youth Justice Board but were dogged by funding uncertainty beyond this March until the DSCF extended funding for 2008-9, after which councils will be expected to fund them. The scheme has been evaluated by the National Children’s Bureau (NCB) but not published yet.
Ashford said the evaluation was “due out soon” and showed that the contacts, knowledge and expertise of the social workers had been “extremely valuable.” But he added: “We have some concerns about how, if and when local authorities will be able to pick up that responsibility, given the other budgetary pressures in social services.”
Chris Callender, assistant legal director at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said social workers in YOIs had difficulties in getting local authorities to take responsibility for children who were in need or looked-after and suggested creating a financial incentive for councils to comply with their duties.
Di Hart, principal officer for youth justice and welfare at the NCB, said that since the creation of youth offending teams under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, social care agencies felt “let off the hook.” She told the committee: “That does not work for looked-after children. Social care needs to be brought to centre stage again and held to account for the outcomes for the children that it looks after who are in the criminal justice system.”