YJB resolves dispute over funding for social workers in YOIs

Funding for social worker posts in young offender institutions (YOIs) has been agreed, ending two years of uncertainty over the positions, CYP Now can reveal.

The Youth Justice Board (YJB) has set aside £3m to fund 22 positions in the 11 YOIs it commissions beds in across England and Wales over the next three years.

The positions were created in 2005 but in recent years many posts have been left unfilled due to funding wrangles. By the end of 2009 more than half the posts were vacant.

John Drew, chief executive of the YJB, told CYP Now the board has been able to pay for the posts as a result of the recent fall in custody levels, which has saved millions.

By December 2009, custody levels had fallen to 2,203 from a peak of 3,175 in October 2002. They now stand below 2,000.

Much of the savings have been absorbed in budget reductions but £1m a year for the next three years has been set aside to fund the posts, Drew added.

The money will go to individual YOIs, with governors then making arrangements with local authorities over the recruitment and professional supervision of staff.

The posts are seen as key to the welfare of children in YOIs, around 27 per cent of whom have had some form of contact with the care system.

“We have recognised since the first pilot that having social workers in YOIs both boosts responsiveness to specific needs of children and has a broader impact in improving safeguarding,” Drew said.

Social workers will be allocated to YOIs based on the numbers of children each accommodates – larger establishments such as Hindley, Feltham, Ashfield and Wetherby will each have four social workers.

The smallest establishments, Downview and Eastwood Park, which each cater for little more than a dozen girls, will have a social worker who spends half their time at the institution.

An evaluation of the effectiveness of the positions will take place over the next three years.

When social workers were initially placed in YOIs in 2005, the posts were funded by the government and the Youth Justice Board. Issues emerged when the Department for Children, Schools and Families shifted responsibility to local authorities in April 2009.

The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) attempted to set up a collective funding agreement to fund the positions, whereby local authorities would split the cost between them but this foundered.

Colin Green, chair of the ADCS families, communities and young people committee, said: “We strongly welcome this initiative from the YJB to provide a consistent and joined-up service for young offenders in every YOI. Young people in custody often arrive with additional need for support, and these needs can be exacerbated simply be being in custody and away from home.

“YOIs should provide support for the educational and welfare needs of young offenders in a holistic way. Leaving the provision of support to arrangements between host and home authorities could lead to fragmentation and therefore an inconsistent and incomplete package of support. In this case, we consider that the best solution is therefore a national one.”

News of the fresh funding is sure to be welcomed by prison campaign groups on the back of concerns over safeguarding arrangements in youth jails.

In January this year, an investigation by CYP Now revealed that nearly one in three prison officers working with vulnerable young offenders in custody had not completed training on safeguarding and assessing vulnerability.

Earlier this month, campaigners called for an independent review of the youth secure estate after five teenagers died in the space of less than five weeks.