Social workers ‘cut links with jailed looked-after children’

Social workers try to sever contact with looked-after children in custody, according to many prison safeguarding teams.

Social workers try to sever contact with looked-after children in custody, according to many prison safeguarding teams.

The finding was uncovered by Nick Hardwick, the chief inspector of prisons, who today published a thematic review into the care of looked-after children in custody after interviewing young peoople and staff at all 12 young offender institutions (YOIs) in England and Wales.

He called for better collaboration between social workers and YOIs and recommended the Youth Justice Board (YJB) and Department for Education work together to agree a strategy to co-ordinate services for looked-after children in custody and on release.

“Looked-after children are a particularly vulnerable section of the youth custody population and it is vital that social workers, both in the institution and in the community, are available and willing to help prepare them for release,” Hardwick said.

The review, commissioned by the YJB, revealed half of looked-after children received no visits from their social worker, while one-third of prison safeguarding teams felt social workers tried to end their involvement with looked-after children in prison.

Hardwick said his review found there was still confusion among prison staff over what support and assistance looked-after children were entitled to, and whose responsibility it was to provide it, despite it being raised as an issue in previous reports.

Several establishments were also unclear about the number of children who were being looked after by their local authority. Eight of the 12 prison safeguarding teams interviewed had no internal lead with specific responsibility for looked-after children.

This led to a lack of understanding about the entitlements of looked-after children and hindered the prison’s ability to communicate with local authorities and plan effective resettlement. Accommodation was often not confirmed until mear the release date and some young people were still being placed in unsuitable B&Bs, the review found.

Penelope Gibbs, director of the Prison Reform Trust’s Out of Trouble programme, said: “It is one of the greatest tests of children’s services and the prison system how they look after the most vulnerable and ensure that prison rehabilitates. Unfortunately, this inspectorate report shows that, in the case of looked-after children, the system is not working.”

The review follows this month’s announcement that the YJB is to fund social worker posts in YOIs. The board’s chief executive, John Drew, told Community Care that savings achieved from the recent fall in youth custody numbers had allowed the investment to be made.

It is estimated about 400 children held in custody at any one time have been in care before.

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