Funding doubts spark social worker flight from young offender units

Social workers placed at young offender institutions under a government scheme are leaving because funding for their posts has not been secured beyond next March, the chief inspector of prisons warned this week.

Anne Owers criticised the government for failing to resolve uncertainty over the future of the pilot scheme, which has been funded and run by the Youth Justice Board since June last year.

The YJB said it was “still waiting to hear” whether the Department for Education and Skills would continue the funding when the pilot comes to an end.

A YJB spokesperson said that it was the DfES’s “statutory responsibility” to ensure that the Children Acts 1989 and 2004 were applied to children in custody, not the YJB’s. Social workers were introduced in prisons in June 2005 after Lord Justice Munby ruled in the High Court that the Children Act 1989 should apply to children in custody. Fifteen YOIs curently have social workers under the scheme.

A DfES spokesperson said the department was working with the YJB and the Home Office “to agree a solution that best meets the needs of vulnerable young people in custody”.

Owers said: “Social workers are proving to be extremely valuable to children in custody, particularly the huge numbers who have been in care. It would be a retrograde step if this scheme faltered just because government departments can’t decide who should fund it.”

Owers added that some social workers on the scheme had already left their posts because future funding had not been decided.

The news emerged as a survey by the YJB and the prisons inspectorate found that nearly half of girls and almost one-third of boys aged 15-18 in YOIs had previously been in care.

The study of just over 1,000 young people in YOIs between 2004 and 2006 also found 80 per cent had been excluded from school, and only 7 per cent of girls and a quarter of boys had a job to go to on release.

Contact the author: Maria Ahmed

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