Prison inspectors have condemned Wetherby Young Offender Institution (YOI), and its flagship Keppel Unit, for failing to recruit social workers in a report published this week.
The unit, which houses some of the most vulnerable 16 and 17-year-old male offenders in the country, is supposed to have access to two social workers. But when inspectors visited in February of this year there had been no social workers on-site at the YOI for at least a year
This was the result of a prolonged funding wrangle between the Youth Justice Board (YJB) and Leeds Council. It was resolved when the YJB funded 3.5 social worker posts - three of which were filled in March this year.
Given the high numbers of looked-after children and those a long way from home among the YOI population, inspectors said social work needed to be more of a priority.
The report stated: “We came across examples of young people who would have benefited from a core assessment, but, in the absence of routine social work involvement in the care planning process, they had not been identified. There should be dedicated social work input for the unit to meet the specific needs of the population.”
Although local authority involvement with the Keppel Unit had improved, there remained serious weaknesses in procedures around child protection - particularly accusations relating to abuse by staff.
This included a lack of involvement of local child protection social workers to provide expertise and independent scrutiny.
Concerns were also raised over the lack of clarity about the Keppel Unit’s role in a national strategy, given it was the only unit of its kind across the juvenile estate.
Nick Hardwick, chief inspector of prisons, said monitoring how and when young people were placed at the unit was crucial as well as assessing whether more resources were needed to help the unit manage risks such as the increase in self-harming.
“Keppel unit staff at all levels are to be commended for their collective and individual commitment to the care of this vulnerable group of young people. It is welcome the YJB are committed to developing further specialist units in the long-term. In the meantime we believe that a review is needed of the central support and resources provided to the Keppel Unit. That needs to be done without delay.”