Month: July 2015

BME children “substantially more likely” to be in custody

Ofsted’s assessment of the backgrounds and placements of children in care shows that those from Black and minority ethnic communities are “substantially more likely” to be locked up.

41% of the 453 ‘looked after’ children held in secure units or prisons on 31 March 2014 were from Black and minority ethnic communities.

Children from Black and minority communities make up 21% of England’s child population, according to the 2011 census. So these newly released figures show there are nearly twice as many looked after children from Black and minority ethnic communities in custody as would be expected, everything else being equal.

Local authorities have legal repsonsibilities towards looked after children. They must safeguard and promote the child’s welfare and, among other things, give due consideration to the child’s racial origin and cultural and linguistic background when making decisions about him or her.

Children can be placed in secure units because they have a history of running away and being at risk of significant harm, or they are likley to injure themselves or others in an alternative placement. They can be placed in secure units or prisons after being remanded by a criminal court, or convicted of a crime.

NB Ofsted’s data refers to children being held in young offender institutions or prisons, though in law and practice both types of institution operate as prisons.

Read the Ofsted report here.

Win for child protection: huge child prison axed

The prisons minister, Andrew Selous, has confirmed in an answer to a parliamentary question that the government will not be pressing ahead with building a huge child prison in Leicestershire.

Legislation was passed last year that would have permitted the detention of children aged 12-17 years in ‘secure colleges’ – large prisons staffed by custody officers, probably run by private companies. The first ‘pathfinder’ prison was to be built on the grounds of an existing prison for young adults in Leicestershire, and was planned to hold 320 children.

Among European countries, only Russia and Turkey imprison more children than the UK.

1 in 5 children in care and care leavers has used an advocate

The Office of the Children’s Commissioner for England has published its first ‘State of the Nation’ report, which gives the results of its national survey with children in care and care leavers.

One aspect of the survey focuses on children and young people’s knowledge and use of independent advocates. These are individuals working independently of statutory agencies who inform children and young people of their rights, and support them to express their views, raise concerns and challenge decisions. Whenever a child or young person in contact with children’s services makes a complaint, the local authority is required by law to inform them of their right to assistance from an independent advocate.

The Commissioner’s survey found that more than one in five (22%) children in care and care leavers have used an advocate, and nearly half (46%) knew how to get one. However, 39% of survey respondents (n=1760) did not know how to get an advocate, and a further 16% were unsure. This is despite regulations encouraging Independent Reviewing Officers, assigned to all looked after children and young people, to ensure the local authority has given information about their complaints procedure and access to advocates.

The report has some direct quotes from children and young people about the value of advocacy, including this one:

“I felt my word wasn’t taken seriously because I was a minor young person so I asked for an advocate so that they could take me seriously.”

Read the report here.

Supreme Court rules on benefits for disabled children in hospital

The Supreme Court has ruled that the human rights of three-year-old Cameron Mathieson were violated when the Department for Work and Pensions took away his disability living allowance (DLA) benefit after he had been in hospital for 84 days.

Cameron had cystic fibrosis and Duchenne muscular dystrophy, among other medical conditions. In July 2010, aged three, he was admitted to Alder Hey Hospital in Liverpool and stayed there until August 2011. His parents were his primary caregivers in hospital. Quoting the First-Tier Tribunal, the Supreme Court notes Cameron “was blessed with loving and caring parents who were utterly devoted to his care”. It cost Mr and Mrs Mathieson around £8000 to meet the costs associated with Cameron being in hospital for 13 months.

In November 2010, the family were notified that Cameron’s DLA benefit would be removed, because he was being “maintained free of charge” in hospital. This was in accordance with regulations passed in 1991 (for over 16s, the limit is just 28 days).

Very sadly, Cameron died in 2012 but his parents continued the legal challenge to the benefit rule. Their success means the cases of around 500 disabled children in hospital will have to be considered, and the Department for Work and Pensions must take action to prevent similar violations in future.

Lawyers representing Cameron cited his rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which the UK ratified in 1991 and 2006 respectively.

Read the judgment here.

Another child dies in prison

Article 39 is deeply saddened to hear that another child has died in prison.

The Youth Justice Board, which allocates children to prison places, reported the death yesterday. The boy was found in his cell at Cookham Wood young offender institution early Saturday morning. The Board’s statement says there is presently “no indication” the child died in suspicious circumstances or took his own life. An inquest will be held in due course.

Whatever the cause of this child’s death, there is no escaping the awful truth that he died alone in a prison cell.

Since 1990, the year the UK made a legal undertaking with the United Nations to only ever detain a child as a measure of last resort, 34 children have died in custody.

This latest death occurred just a few days after the publication of the report and recommendations of the Harris Review into the deaths of 83 young adults and 4 children in custody between April 2007 and December 2014.

The last inspection report into Cookham Wood young offender institution, published in October 2014, referred to “debilitating staff shortages”, children being strip-searched “under restraint” and “awful” conditions in the ‘constant watch cell’ in the prison’s segregation unit.