Exclusive: Social workers fail to reach young offenders with mental health problems

Two out of three young offenders with mental health problems
have no contact with a social worker, according to a new Revolving
Doors Agency survey, writes Clare

Despite clear social need, 65 per cent said they had experienced
no contact with a social worker before the age of 22, and 81 per
cent felt that having a social worker would not have helped to
resolve their problems anyway.

“Social workers do not appear to rate highly in their
estimation,” according to the agency, which surveyed its older
clients to identify their levels of need between 16 and 22.

But 56 per cent said that “having someone to talk to about their
problems, issues and lives” would have helped.

The agency found high rates of refusal for help, yet the most
popular request was for access to housing services by 55 per cent
of offenders recalling they needed help with this issue. Between
the ages of 16 and 18, 29 per cent had been homeless.

“Housing poses a variety of hurdles which young offenders must
overcome,” author Nick O’Shea said. Generally they are not
able to claim housing benefit, yet high levels of domestic abuse,
single parenthood and poverty means the family home may not be a
viable alternative.

Offenders viewed mental health professionals similarly to social
workers. “Befrienders are much more likely to be requested than a
social worker or mental health professional,” the report said.

Seventy six per cent would have declined the offer to see a
mental health professional. Despite showing high levels of risk
throughout their youth, just 23 per cent had been given a mental
health diagnosis before the age of 22.

The result, according to the report, is a group of young
offenders with mental health problems that have remained unresolved
into adult life.

Yet those vulnerable young offenders, who were in contact with a
variety of agencies, often had a transition from children’s
to adult services that was “neither consistent or predictable”.

The agency calls for services to be developed in a new way to
offer a co-ordinated response to young offenders with mental health
problems. It is now setting up schemes which can develop and test
new approaches for services to improve their work together.

Joe Levenson, policy officer at the Prison Reform Trust, said:
“There is clear evidence that too many young people with mental
health problems end up in prison, and that the experience of prison
can further damage their mental health.

“This important report highlights the overwhelming need for a
co-ordinated response when addressing the mental health problems of
offenders,” he said.

The report is available from 020 7242 9222.

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.