Court threat to councils over cuts to YOI social work jobs

The Department for Children, Schools and Families has warned councils they could be challenged in the courts if they cut social worker posts in young offender institutions.

The news came as it emerged no decision has been made on the future of the 20 posts, which are currently funded by the DCSF but which will become the responsibility of councils from April next year.

An, as yet unpublished, evaluation of the scheme by children’s charity NCB, recommended that central funding should continue and said arrangements for long-term financing should be agreed urgently.

Call for more funding

In July, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services called on the DCSF to come up with long-term funding solutions by 1 November, proposing a specific grant paid to councils with a YOI in their area, but “top-sliced” from government funding for all councils.

But this week, its youth crime spokesperson, John Harris, said councils were still working with the DCSF and the Local Government Association to agree a way forward, adding that the ADCS would consult councils before the end of the month.

He said the ADCS wanted the costs to be spread “fairly across councils” because many local authorities without local YOIs benefited from better support for young offenders from their areas.

Duty breach

The DCSF warned councils that cutting posts could be considered to be a breach of their statutory duty to provide offenders in YOIs with services under the Children Act 1989. This was established by the 2002 Munby judgement.

A DCSF spokesperson said: “Local authorities are responsible for ensuring there are social work services provided for young people in young offender institutions. The provision of social worker posts on the site has been the means of giving effect to that requirement. If a local authority is considered to be in breach of this statutory duty, it could be challenged in the courts.”

Di Hart, principal officer for youth justice and welfare at NCB, who authored the evaluation of the scheme, said: “It is disappointing that, a year after the evaluation was completed, no solution has been found to the problem of ongoing funding. If the posts are lost, the outcomes for this group of vulnerable children will almost certainly be jeopardised.”

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