Month: December 2015

Children’s residential care review

Article 39 has submitted to the Children’s residential care review, which issued a call for evidence at the end of October 2015.

We urge the Review to vigorously defend the rights and safeguards that have evolved for children and young people in care over the past 25 years, and underline the leading role played by children, young people and adults with care experience who campaigned for these positive developments. Our specific recommendations include:

  • The introduction of a statutory, overaching purpose of care, which emphasises recovery from past harm and looked after children’s entitlements to support and services
  • Regular review and strengthening of safeguards, to ensure the most effective rights protection, and the same safeguards to apply to children living in different institutional settings
  • The rejection of child imprisonment and recognition of the superior model of secure care offered by secure children’s homes
  • Ensuring children and young people’s own measures of ‘what works’ are integrated into the Review’s framework for assessing residential care.

We also highlight the enormous importance of sibling relationships; the need for improved support as young people approach adulthood; and the reality that abuse still happens in residential care. In response to government concerns about value for money, we note the justfiable high cost of other welfare services for children and the absence of any research to indicate taxpayers begrudge contributing to the care and protection of children unable to live with their families. We also urge the Review to avoid perpetuating negative messages about children and young people in the care system.

Read our submission.

Organisations invited to tender for secure training centres

The government has revealed the five companies which were invited to tender for the contracts to run Medway and Rainsbrook secure training centres. These are prisons for children aged 12 to 17 (sometimes 18 year-olds are placed there too). The five-year contracts were worth £236 million in total. In September 2015, the Youth Justice Board announced that G4S would continue to run Medway, and MTCnovo would be handed the contract for Rainsbrook.

In an answer to a parliamentary question from Lord Beecham, the Ministry of Justice listed the five companies which had been invited to tender:

  • G4S Care and Justice Services (UK) Limited (now trading as Inspiring Futures);
  • MTCnovo Limited;
  • Sodexo Justice Services;
  • Diagrama Foundation; and
  • Ingeus UK Limited

Rainsbrook STC “requires improvement”

An Ofsted inspection of Rainsbrook secure training centre, which detains children between the ages of 12 and 17, as well as some 18 year-olds, has concluded it “requires improvement”.

The inspection of the G4S-run prison took place in September 2015, several months after inspectors rated its safety and overall effectiveness as “inadequate”.

Although the safety of children had improved since the last inspection, the effectiveness of management was criticised because there had been two incidents of serious misconduct by senior staff. One of the incidents had been left unchallenged, even though other staff were present. Inspectors were made aware of it only through audio recording on a body camera (which suggests it was a restraint incident).

The room used for searching children was described by inspectors as “stark” and a window was left uncovered:

“Although no-one can see into the room through this window, new arrivals are unlikely to know this, and the thought of undressing in front of an uncovered window could provoke anxiety in some young people.”

There had been three full searches – where children are made to remove all of their clothes – since the last inspection, and many routine ‘dignity searches’ (a description of these is not provided).

There was poor recording of the use of handcuffs, so inspectors were unable to check whether children had, for example, been handcuffed when “having a consultation with a medical professional”.

As is routine with inspections undertaken by the prisons inspectorate, a survey of children was carried out. Physical abuse and sexual abuse by other children was reported by 9 and 2 children respectively. One-third of the survey respondents said they had suffered ‘shout-outs’, a form of abuse endemic in custodial institutions whereby prisoners shout demeaning insults and threats from their cell windows. Five and three children reported physical and sexual abuse by staff respectively. None of this abuse is discussed in the main body of the report.

The time children arrive at Rainsbrook is outside the control of the prison. The Youth Justice Board contracts Serco to transport children to and from secure training centres, including to hospital appointments and court hearings. On first admission, inspectors found 21% of children had arrived late at night, some after midnight.

The management of Rainsbrook secure training centre is currently being transferred to MTCnovo. Last month, Article 39 and others raised concerns with the Youth Justice Board about MTC’s track record of running adult prisons in the United States.

Read the inspection report.

Yet more reductions in secure children’s homes

The Youth Justice Board has announced today that it plans to reduce by 15% the number of places it funds in secure children’s homes, from 138 to 117 places.

This is a 47% reduction since 2009, when the Youth Justice Board contracted 220 places.

In September 2015, 70% of detained children were held in young offender institutions; 20% were held in secure training centres run by G4S; and just 11% were in secure children’s homes.

Secure children’s homes are governed by the same legislation as ordinary children’s homes. They have much higher staff to child ratios than young offender institutions, which are run by the prison service and by G4S (which operates Parc in Wales). The law requires that managers of secure children’s homes have appropriate experience, qualifications and skills, and they must ensure their staff group can “meet the needs of each child”. No such legal duties apply to young offender institutions and secure training centres. Moreover, the law sets out robust standards that must be followed by each home, and children are given greater protection from the routine use of physical restraint (it is not permitted because a child fails to follow orders, for example, as is the case in young offender institutions). The infliction of severe pain as a form of restraint is prohibited in secure children’s homes.

One secure children’s home is run by a charity; the remainder are run by local authorities.

This announcement comes a fortnight after the chief inspector of prisons found “deeply disturbing” use of restraint in child prisons and “little cultural change” since a new system of restraint was introduced in 2013 following the deaths of two boys, Gareth Myatt and Adam Rickwood, in 2004 in secure training centres.

In October, the Office of Children’s Commissioner for England urged  “the decommissioning of young offender institutions and their replacement with smaller establishments with higher staff to child ratios based closer to the child’s family and community”.

Just last week, the Chief Executive of the Youth Justice Board, Lin Hinnigan, was reported to have told a conference of youth justice workers that they should be able to provide interventions which are “personalised and responsive to each [child’s] developmental, health and wellbeing needs” in children’s neighbourhoods and communities “rather than part of a prison service”.

Article 39’s Director, Carolyne Willow, responds:

“This further disinvestment in secure children’s homes props up a dangerous and discredited prison system. Young offender institutions are much cheaper to run than secure children’s homes, because they are places of punishment where children languish in locked cells with only an hour a day in the fresh air at best. When a child’s behaviour and circumstances have got to such a point that he or she cannot, for the time being, live freely within the community, we should not be surprised that specialised care comes with a high price tag.”