Delays to secure training centres condemn vulnerable children to unsafe conditions, say MPs
A group of MPs has called for action to protect vulnerable children who continue to be held in unsafe conditions as a result of failures by the Ministry of Justice and Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service to provide suitable provision.
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has called for action on secure training centres (STCs) after the Ministry of Justice and the Prison and Probation Service has failed to provide suitable provision.
The PAC’s report finds that the closure of secure training centres and delays to opening new secure schools means many children receive “substandard” care with concerns that highly vulnerable girls are among those failed by custody provision.
The report notes that the current estate operated by the Ministry and HMPPS is totally unsuited to meeting the complex needs of children in custody. MPs said this echoes the recent Care Review which found Youth Offender Institutions and STCs to be “wholly unsuitable” for accommodating children in the criminal justice system.
“Secure children’s homes are almost always better able to provide a more caring, less institutionalised and more supportive environment for young people to recover, learn and eventually return to their family, carer or the community,” the Care Review said in its final report, adding that they should be phased out within the next ten years and replaced by local secure children’s homes or ‘Secure Schools’.
Data recently released by Ofsted showed the strains on the system with just thirteen secure children’s homes available to vulnerable children, with the numbers waiting for a bed doubling – from 25 last year to 50 now.
“There is a shortage of secure children’s homes places in England. At any one time, around 50 children each day (up from 25 last year) are waiting for a secure children’s home place and around 30 (up from 20 last year) are placed by English LAs in Scottish secure units due to the lack of available places,” Ofsted said. A further challenge highlighted by the children’s social care inspectorate is that ‘the Promise’, the Scottish Care Review, recommended that Scotland no longer takes placements from English local authorities.
John Pearce, Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) Vice President and Director of Children’s Services at Durham County Council, said children are in “extreme distress” and placements are often needed at short notice.
Commenting on the Ofsted figures, Pearce said: “As the data shows there are only 13 secure children’s homes in England, no provision in some parts of the country at all, demand for beds has grown and therefore long distances are frequently involved. There has also been an increase in young people with substantial mental health needs within this group which may be linked to the significant decrease in Tier 4 Mental Health bed provision for young people.”
MPs say they are “unconvinced” by the commitment of the Ministry and HMPPS to deliver the vision of the Taylor Review for smaller, local and educationally focused schools. Despite the Ministry having accepted the need for secure schools more than seven years ago, the first is unlikely to open before February 2024.
In April 2022, 432 children between 10 and 17-years old were held in custody in the UK. Children from ethnic minority backgrounds and those with mental health or learning disabilities were overrepresented. The number of children in custody is expected to more than double by 2024.
Dame Meg Hillier MP (pictured above), Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, called on the Department to “get a grip” after repeated failures to fulfil its promise to support the programme seven years ago.
The Labour and Co-operative politician for Hackney South and Shoreditch said the Government faces a “double disaster” of a growing number of children being held in custody while delays and spiralling costs jeopardise what were promised to be safe, secure facilities.
“Secure schools were heralded as the solution for the youngest and most vulnerable in custody. It’s time for the Department to get a grip on the programme it announced its support for seven years ago.
“We urge the government to understand the impact that custody has on children, particularly those held in unsafe conditions or those receiving substandard care.
“It is clear that the government lacks a coherent strategy for youth custody which must have at its heart the need to reduce the number of children entering the criminal justice system and providing sufficient safeguards for those that do.”
Read the full report: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm5803/cmselect/cmpubacc/30/report.html
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