8 Oct 2019
Howard League responds to joint inspection report on resettlement work with children and young people in the community
The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded to Youth resettlement – final report into work in the community, published jointly by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation today (Tuesday 8 October).
The report looks at the support that 50 children and young people received from youth justice services in the first three months after their release from custody. By the end of that period, six of the 50 had gone missing.
Only 11 of them went into education or training immediately after release, and less than half got the specialist support that they needed for their substance misuse problems.
Of the 37 young people who needed input from children’s social care services, only six received help with resettlement.
The inspectors’ findings are in line with what the Howard League sees through its legal work. The charity runs a free and confidential legal advice line for children and young people in custody. In the last 12 months, the legal team has received about 100 inquiries about children and young people who do not know where they will be living on release.
Laura Janes, Legal Director at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “The concerns raised in this important report mirror what the Howard League sees through its legal work every day. Children are being let down and set up to fail.
“We have seen an alarming rise in the number of children going missing. Children leaving custody are not going somewhere they feel safe or wanted, and they do not feel that they can rely on the authorities around them, so they take matters into their own hands.
“The inspectors have found that the authorities supposed to be helping children are passive and offer too little, too late. Howard League lawyers see this time and again. Building on what we have found over our 15 years of legal work, and following consultation with 100 custody caseworkers, the Howard League is about to launch a toolkit to help professionals act sooner and do better for children leaving custody.
“Ten of the children that the inspectors followed turned 18 while in custody. We are seeing more and more teenagers in this position, being placed in approved premises that are designed primarily for those adults assessed as being at highest risk. These are inappropriate and frightening places for young people to be.
“Through its legal work, the Howard League has transformed law, policy and practice for children in the criminal justice system. But today’s report underlines the fact that there is still so much more to do.”
Ministry of Justice figures, obtained by the Howard League through a freedom of information request, show that the number of 18-year-olds placed in probation approved premises has risen significantly this year. In 2017 and 2018, the numbers were 58 and 63 respectively. There were 50 such placements in the first six months of 2019.
Children supported by the Howard League
Howard League lawyers have noticed a worrying increase in children going missing following release from custody. Typically, children who go missing have been provided with rushed and last-minute release plans from social care that do not take account of their wishes and feelings. The children often revert to their own way of coping with little faith in the authorities to protect them.
Sam is a child who has been in and out of custody for the last two years. He is assessed as being vulnerable. He has undiagnosed learning difficulties. He was extremely worried about the plan for release. Despite being well known to the local authority and being on a full care order, Sam still did not know where he was going to be living just days before his release. He was so anxious about not knowing where he would live on release that he set a fire in his cell with the intention of trying to hurt himself. Sam was placed in a care home that was unfamiliar to him and immediately went missing.
Charlotte is a child who has significant learning difficulties and has been placed in a range of secure environments in previous years. Her local authority failed to come up with a plan in advance of her release and repeatedly ignored the advice of specialists, who had assessed her in custody and recommended a highly specialised placement with support. Since her release, Charlotte has been missing for most of the time and the local authority has not come up with any firm plans to keep her safe.
Notes to editors
- The Howard League for Penal Reform is the oldest penal reform charity in the world. It is a national charity working for less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison.
- The Howard League legal team identifies the problems and injustice faced by children and young people in the criminal justice system. It works to provide legal solutions for individuals, as well as wider policy changes to prevent the problems reoccurring for other young people. More information about the work of the legal team can be found on the Howard League website.
- Last year the Howard League worked with children in custody to find out their views of what home meant to them. More than a roof overhead can be read on the Howard League website.
- A copy of the thematic report will be available online from Tuesday 8 October 2019.
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