Ofsted calls for young people in secure settings to be placed closer to home

Ofsted inspectors have urged the Youth Justice Board (YJB) to review the number of secure accommodation placements so young people can be held in settings closer to their families.

A study conducted by the watchdog evaluated the quality of 16 secure children’s homes and four secure training centres and their effectiveness of assessment, care planning and resettling of young people into the community.

Based on visits between July 2009 and January 2010, inspectors found many young people had been placed more than 200 miles away from their families because of a lack of local placements. The report concluded that this could increase young people’s sense of vulnerability and restrict families’ involvement in planning and reviews.

It also criticised some local authorities for failing to meet their obligations to support and resettle young people who were being released from custody.

John Goldup, Ofsted’s director of social care, said: “Young people moving through the secure estate need support that is well co-ordinated, continuous and as close to home as possible if they are to successfully reintegrate into the community. While a wide range of factors may lead to offending behaviour, it is clear that young people’s chances of avoiding reoffending are damaged if they lose contact with their families, with professionals who are trying to work with them and with the education and training opportunities they will need on discharge.”

Young people can be placed in a secure setting for welfare reasons, under section 25 of the Children Act 1989, or placed there by a court, on remand or as part of a sentence.

Inspectors found that there was substantial consultation with families of young people admitted to secure settings for welfare reasons. But those sentenced by courts often did not know where they were being taken, and parents were not informed until their children had arrived at the placement.

The report also revealed that emotional support and the relationships between young people and staff within the secure establishments were “very positive”.

Ofsted is now recommending that the YJB review the range, location and number of secure placements to ensure young people are placed as close as possible to their homes. They are also calling for appropriate vocational and work experiences to be made available for young people and that continuity of care before, during and after admission is improved.

Inspectors are also asking local authorities to involve families in decision-making when young people are to be placed on a welfare order, ensure that young people in a secure placement who are entitled to leaving care support receive the services they require and that young people moving out of secure settings have a guaranteed education or training place arranged for them.

John Drew, YJB chief executive, said that while young people’s closeness to home has always been important the priority for the YJB has been to meet the complex needs of “some of the most vulnerable and damaged children and young people in our society”.

He said: “To accommodate these unique needs, every youth custody centre in England and Wales, now provides a different range of specialist therapeutic and remedial help, offering children and young people the best opportunities for training and education, resettlement and rehabilitation.

“Ultimately, the YJB believes custody should be a last resort.  But for those young people who are in custody we are committed to improving resettlement provision to give them the best chance of reducing re-offending, leading to more productive lives.”

Download the report