Locking up children costing state £300M a year, says Children’s Commissioner

Hundreds of children are locked up by the state in England at a cost of around £300 million a year, according to a new report.

As of March last year, 1,465 under-18s were securely detained, analysis published by the Children’s Commissioner said.

It found that the figure comprised 873 held in youth justice settings, 505 in mental health wards and 87 in secure children’s homes for their own welfare.

The report said: “Adding up the cost of the placements for these children is a stark reminder of the price of social failure: We estimate that we spend around £309 million a year on these 1,465 children in England.”

In addition, the paper suggested that in 2017/18 applications were made to courts to deprive 211 children of their liberty.

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, said: “There are hundreds of children in England growing up behind closed doors, locked away for their own safety or the safety of others.

“They should never be invisible or forgotten.

“Our research shows the system that detains them is messy and the state often lacks very basic information about who all these children are, where they are living and why they are there.”

Locking children up is an “extreme form of intervention”, the Commissioner said.

She added: “We are spending millions of pounds on these packages of care and yet there is far too little oversight of why they are there, their journeys into this system and the safeguards in place to protect them once they are there.

“These children are some of the most vulnerable and have often repeatedly been let down by the state earlier in their lives, in some cases turned away from foster homes or excluded from school.”

The report recommended that the Government set up a joint working group to improve data collection and the understanding of the pathway of children into and out of the secure estate.

Anntoinette Bramble, chairwoman of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, said: “Any decision to deprive a child of their liberty is taken extremely seriously and only made in cases where there is no other option available to protect that child or those around them.

“These children will have extremely complex, significant needs and councils work hard with their partners, including in health and youth justice, to make sure these placements provide the support children need to overcome those issues in order to try to help them go on to live safe, independent lives.”

A Government spokesman said: “The welfare of children is of paramount importance when deciding whether to detain a child – whether that be for criminal reasons or for their own safety.

“The number of children in youth custody has fallen by over 70% in the last decade and we are completely changing our approach by investing in Secure Schools that will put education at its heart.

“We commissioned an independent review into the Mental Health Act to ensure it works better for children and have recently committed to investing an extra £2.3 billion a year on transforming mental health services.

“We are also providing £40 million of funding to improve facilities and expand capacity in Secure Children’s Homes.”

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