Social workers go to prison to help young offenders’ welfare

The decision by the Youth Justice Board to employ social workers at
young offender institutions could open up job opportunities in
youth justice, writes Derren Hayes.

From September, all 17 young offender institutions in England and
Wales will employ a total of 25 senior social workers.

The move, largely driven by a ruling that YOIs have welfare
responsibilities under the Children Act 1989, is welcomed by
professionals as a first step in broadening social work’s
involvement and presence in youth justice.

Social workers employed will need a “massive knowledge of
looked-after children issues,” explains Jeremy Whittle, child
protection and safeguard policy officer at the prison service.

“The idea is that children come out of detention and go into
employment or education, but they need support. They have housing
needs and some don’t have basic personal and social skills,” he

Whittle says other roles may develop, with youth offending teams
recognising they need to have greater focus on social services
support and needs.

Chris Stanley, head of policy at youth justice charity Nacro, says
social worker representation on YOTs has dwindled since the teams
were set up in 1999. Many social workers have been replaced with
youth justice criminal workers. There are also fewer staff with
specialist experience of children and families work.

“It would be good to extend the move of placing social workers in
YOIs to YOTs, so that social workers play a more prominent role in
rehabilitating children,” Stanley adds.

Marilyn Welsh, first response team manager at Staffordshire social
services, was seconded over the past two years to the Youth Justice
Board and prison service to develop the plans. She believes they
had “missed a trick” by not engaging social services effectively.

“Social workers can act as a broker for the young people by
ensuring they have the services and support they need. The social
worker would be in a wider multidisciplinary team.”

Welsh adds that as politicians continue to look to detention as the
answer to juvenile crime, social services will be increasingly
identified as providers of expertise to support children in prison.

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