Directors round on plans to place young offenders in children’s homes

A Home Office plan to place young offenders in open children’s homes “flies in the face” of good practice for looked-after children, according to the Association of Directors of Social Services.

Children and families committee co-chair Andrew Webb (pictured) said the plan would further stigmatise looked-after children, undermine government ambitions on stability, and increase the burden on staff in the homes.

However, it was welcomed by children’s charities NSPCC and Voice as a way to provide a more therapeutic service for young offenders.

The proposal is included in the Offender Management Bill and applies to the custodial element of detention and training orders. It would allow recipients of DTOs to serve half of their sentence in a variety of non-secure settings, including children’s homes, and seems to follow on from a Youth Justice Board proposal last year for it to have discretion over the type of accommodation young offenders should be placed in.

The Home Office said most recipients of DTOs would continue to be placed in custodial settings and that full risk assessments would be carried out before any were placed in a children’s home.

But Webb said: “If everyone in the community knows that the place that is supposed to be your home is also a place where a young person who has committed a crime can be sent, what does that say about you?”

He said the proposal went against the drive for stability for looked-after children in last month’s green paper, Care Matters.

However, David Coulter, youth justice policy adviser for the NSPCC, said it could help address the “substantial” mental health needs of many offenders so long as homes were adequately staffed.

Jonathan Stanley, manager of the National Centre for Excellence in Residential Childcare, based at the National Children’s Bureau, said it was unclear whether the government planned to mix offenders and non-offenders. But he said keeping the two groups separate had already been recognised as an effective way to meet children’s needs.

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