MPs call for more social workers in young offender institutions

Children in care and care leavers in the youth justice system are being 'abandoned' by social services and prematurely criminalised, according to a committee of MPs

Picture credit: Brian Harris/Rex Features

MPs are calling for more social workers in the youth justice system in a bid to improve support for abandoned looked-after children and care leavers in custody.

The recommendation is part of a range of improvements called for by the House of Commons justice select committee in its latest report into the youth justice system.

Published today, the report calls for more social workers to be available to children in care and care leavers held in Young Offender Institutions (YOIs).

Ministers should commit to long-term funding for social workers in YOIs, the MPs said; the committee is concerned funding is only guaranteed until next year.

The report also highlighted evidence that not enough councils are seconding social workers to Youth Offending Teams.

“We were shocked by evidence we heard that vulnerable children across the UK are effectively being abandoned by childrens and social services,” said committee chair Sir Alan Beith MP.

Benefits of social workers in YOIs

A report into Werrington YOI, near Stoke on Trent, published this week highlighted the benefits social workers can provide to looked-after children in custody.

The report, which followed an unannounced inspection last August, praised Werringtons appointment of two social workers for providing an extra level of rigour to the internal child protection procedures.

MPs also raised concerns that children in care are being effectively criminalised by a heavy-handed approach by police, care homes and social workers to “trivial” incidents of poor behaviour.

‘Heavy-handed approach by care homes and social workers’

“Poor behaviour which would be dealt with within the family should not be an express route into the criminal justice system for children who do not have the benefit of a normal family life.

“We heard one example of the police being called to a childrens home to investigate a broken cup,” Beith said.

Among the recommendations is a greater focus on early intervention. But the Local Government Association says councils are facing a major cut in the Early Intervention Grant this year, after 150m was diverted to improving adoption services.

‘Cuts to early intervention make it harder for councils to intervene’

Cllr David Simmonds, chair of the LGAs children and young peoples board, said the committee is right to highlight the crucial importance of early intervention.

However, by cutting councils’ early intervention grants, the government has made it harder to intervene early to provide support for children growing up in difficult circumstances, Simmonds said.

Justice minister Jeremy Wright said councils have a duty to support vulnerable young people and act quickly if they are at risk of becoming involved in criminal behaviour. He said the government will respond to the report in due course.

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