Owers slams councils for not funding YOI social workers

The chief inspector of prisons has branded councils “poor” and “disappointing” for failing to fund enough social work posts in young offender institutions.

In her annual report today, Anne Owers, the outgoing chief inspector of prisons for England and Wales, welcomed the 21% fall in youth custody figures over 2008-9.

But she found that, although social workers’ involvement in YOIs was “crucial”, “the prospect of reliable and consistent funding for these posts appears to be further away than ever”.

Speaking to Community Care, Owers said: “Social workers are an important part of a multi-disciplinary environment. It is disappointing and very poor that directors of children’s services have failed to agree on a funding formula for these posts.”

More than half of the 25 social work posts in YOIs were vacant at the end of 2009. Funding had been provided by the Youth Justice Board but responsibility for agreeing a funding formula was transferred to local authorities last year.

Andrew Webb, ADCS policy lead on youth justice, said: “We have been in further discussions with the YJB and the Joint Youth Justice Unit (DCSF/MoJ) to work towards a national solution that would allow the secure estate to provide the same number of social workers that were provided by the previous centrally funded scheme.

“If such a solution cannot be found, it may be that we need to look at each YOI on a case-by-case basis to ensure that the financial burden does not fall unfairly on host authorities.”

While Owers’ report found progress in some areas, such as education and training, she also highlighted many concerns, including high levels of restraint in some YOIs and routine strip-searching on arrival in most male YOIs.

Safeguarding procedures “remained fractured at most establishments”, while vulnerability assessments were “generally not good enough”. Owers also pointed out that no establishment had a “clear strategy or co-ordinated system of care planning to meet the needs of the most vulnerable or challenging young people”.

Child protection practice and relationships with local safeguarding children boards were also found to be “not sufficiently well-developed”.

However, Owers said there had been “more progress in the juvenile estate than in the adult estate” and praised progress made in smaller, dedicated units, such as the Keppel Unit at the Wetherby young offender institution.

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