The Youth Justice Board is to fund social worker posts in young offender institutions (YOIs), it has been confirmed.
John Drew, chief executive of the Youth Justice Board (YJB), said the board will allocate £3m over three years – from April 2011 to April 2014 – to fund 22 posts in 11 YOIs across England and Wales. He said savings achieved from the recent fall in youth custody numbers had allowed the investment to be made.
The news follows confusion and disagreement over funding for the 22 posts, more than half of which were left vacant when local authority funding discussions broke down last year.
Although the posts will be funded for three years initially, Drew said he would be “very surprised” if the arrangement did not become permanent.
“There are very few who have defended a situation where there are not enough social workers in YOIs. It is recognised as extremely important. I would be very surprised if the agreement we have reached with ministers does not become a permanent arrangement,” he told Community Care.
The highest number of social worker posts (four) will be based in Hindley and Feltham YOIs. Three social workers will be based at Ashfield YOI and Wetherby YOI respectively. Local children’s services will be responsible for recruiting the social workers and providing ongoing supervision, Drew said. Establishments will be looking for qualified children’s social workers, he said, adding that local authority social workers would have the relevant expertise.
Funding for the posts, which were created in 2005, had originally been provided by the Youth Justice Board, but responsibility for agreeing a funding formula was transferred to local authorities in 2009. The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) confirmed councils would fund the posts for 2009-10, while an alternative solution for permanent funding was found.
But the solution remained elusive and more than half of the posts were vacant at the end of 2009, according to figures released in parliament by justice minister Maria Eagle. Dame Anne Owers, the former chief inspector of prisons, last year branded councils “poor” and “disappointing” for failing to agree on a funding formula.
Today’s announcement has been welcomed by councils and charities. Colin Green, chair of the Families, Communities and Young People policy committee at the ADCS, said: “We strongly welcome this initiative from the YJB to provide a consistent and joined-up service for young offenders in every YOI.
“Leaving the provision of support to arrangements between host and home authorities could lead to fragmentation and therefore an inconsistent and incomplete package of support. In this case, we consider that the best solution is therefore a national one.”
Carlene Firmin, Barnardo’s assistant director of policy, said the charity was “relieved to hear that the row over who should fund these vital posts has ended”.
She added: “The safety of children in custody was being neglected and with at least half the social worker positions available in YOIs lying empty, our concerns were great. No matter what they have done they should be kept safe – the majority of children are not a risk to the public but are often a risk to themselves.”
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