Young people leaving custody are receiving inadequate social care support leading to poor resettlement outcomes, a situation that has not improved in four years, inspectors have warned.
Of 50 children and young people released from young offender institutions between October 2018 and August 2019, 37 needed social care input, yet only six received adequate support, the probations and prisons inspectorates’ report found.
The damning report released earlier this week found that little had changed since a similar review was undertaken in 2015, which the inspectors labelled “immensely disappointing”..
In the 2015 report, it was found that with some notable exceptions, children’s social care services “were not fully engaged in the resettlement of children, sometimes not even fulfilling their statutory duties”. Councils have different duties to children depending on their looked-after or care leaver status but where a child is or has been looked-after they must provide at least some support to them in custody and on release.
‘Dire’ outcomes for many children
Like its predecessor, the 2019 report found poor outcomes on resettlement in relation to reoffending – with 10 convicted of an offence and 25 subject to police investigation within three months of release.
On accommodation, while 30 returned to live with their families, outcomes for the others were “dire”, with some boys not knowing where they would be living on release. Though one third were currently looked after, just one looked-after child returned to the accommodation they were living in before their sentence. Six children had gone missing, while the report also identified a lack of support from youth offending teams for the boys’ education, training and health needs.
Among the report’s recommendations were for the government to develop a national accommodation strategy for children released from custody, and provide accommodation retainers to ensure that children had suitable housing in place a minimum of one month before release.
Messages in report ‘not new’, ADCS acknowledges
Responding to the report, Stuart Gallimore, the immediate past president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), acknowledged that many of the messages in the report were not new.
“The outcomes of too many children and young people leaving custody remain poor in terms of entering education, finding employment and rates of re-offending,” Gallimore said.
“The report recognises that resettlement can be a scary time for some children and young people and planning for their release should ideally start as soon as they start their custodial sentence, so that the services and support they need are available when and where they need them.”
Gallimore said finding suitable accommodation was one of the main difficulties councils faced in this area of work, due to a national shortage of housing – particularly social housing – and a shortage of placements for children in care.
“The recommendation in this report for a national scheme to pay retainers on suitable accommodation a minimum of one month before a child or young person’s release is worthy of further discussion,” he said.
Longer planning period to support improved resettlement
The chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, Judith Blake said councils were often made aware of release dates at short notice which made resettlement planning by YOTs extremely difficult.
“A severe lack of social rented housing means that finding suitable accommodation for young offenders upon their release can be challenging, especially at short notice.”
She added: “Limited numbers of secure children’s homes and young offender institutions means that young people are often placed at a considerable distance from their home and community which compounds difficulties in planning.”
Blake said a longer planning period would support improved resettlement, allowing time to identify the right placements and provide certainty and stability for young people leaving custody.
“It is also vital that the youth secure estate works more closely with its partners and that all parts of the system are properly resourced to improve outcomes for all children and young people in custody.”