Category: Secure accommodation

No reduction in use of prison custody for children

Statistics released by the Ministry of Justice and the Youth Justice Board over the Easter break show 9 out of 10 children in custody continue to be held in prison environments.

Data for 2016/17 shows 89% of children remanded or held in custody after sentencing were placed in either young offender institutions (YOIs) or secure training centres (STCs). This is the same proportion as last year. Both types of accommodation are modelled on adult prisons.

Of 863 children detained under criminal justice orders in February 2017, 609 were held in YOIs and 155 in STCs. Just 99 children were held in child-centred secure children’s homes run by local authorites or the voluntary sector.

Back in February, the Youth Custody Improvement Board recommended “a very clearly different approach to the current YOIs” and commented on the “appalling situation at Medway” STC – a reference to serious child abuse uncovered by BBC Panorama in the then G4S-run child prison.

Along with many other organisations, Article 39 believes children should only ever be detained in childcare environments, where staff are fully trained and supported to provide therapeutic care to the very small number who cannot be safely supported in the community. We believe the secure children’s home model provides the best basis from which to develop world-standard specialist secure provision.

We are deeply disappointed that the Government recently used the Children and Social Work Bill to change the law to allow children from England and Wales to be detained on welfare grounds in Scotland. We strongly lobbied against this change because it arose from dwindling provision rather than a strategic analysis of children’s needs and best interests. Once the Bill receives Royal Assent, looked after children detained on welfare grounds in Scotland will lose their right to consent to placements outside England and Wales. Independent reviews have also been removed from these children.

Reliance on resources in Scotland for ‘welfare detention’ will inevitably threaten the viability of secure children’s homes generally. There has already been a 21% reduction in secure accommodation places in England across the past six years, from 293 in 2010 to 232 in 2016. Conversely, the Scottish Government has stated that the detention of children from England and Wales in Scotland will assist the financial viability of provision there, noting “The withdrawal of English placements would lead to a loss of income to one or more of the Scottish units, with the possibility it would force at least one provider into an early and unplanned closure”.

MPs urged to challenge changes to secure accommodation

Article 39 continues to challenge changes pushed through House of Commons Committee stage, which will allow looked after children from England to be detained in secure accommodation in Scotland on welfare grounds.

The changes to the Children Act 1989 were tabled by Children’s Minister Edward Timpson MP in December 2016, as amendments to the Children and Social Work Bill. There was no public consultation.

These legal changes arise from cases which went to the High Court last year. Cumbria and Blackpool local authorities sought authorisation to detain looked after children in secure accommodation in Scotland due to lack of specialist provision here.

Between 2010 and 2016, there was a 21% reduction in places in secure accommodation in England, with a loss of 61 places.

Shadow Children’s Minister Emma Lewell-Buck has tabled an amendment to the Bill, which will bring an end to the Children Act 1989 changes in 2019. This would give time for consultation and a proper examination of the impact on children’s rights and welfare, as well as developing provision close to children’s homes, education and local services. The amendment will be discussed in the House of Commons tomorrow (7 March).

Read our joint briefing with the British Association of Social Workers, Children England and the National Association of Independent Reviewing Officers.

Sad day for children’s rights

Members of Parliament on the Committee scrutinising the Children and Social Work Bill have voted to allow the exemption clauses back in. These will allow individual councils to be excused from any number of legal duties towards vulnerable children and young people for up to six years.

The Children’s Minister repeated today that the purpose of these ‘trials’ is to test whether duties could be removed across the whole country.

All of the Conservative MPs on the Committee voted with the Children’s Minister, Edward Timpson MP.

All of the Labour MPs voted against the Minister’s amendments, led by Shadow Children’s Minister, Emma Lewell-Buck MP.

The result was a 10-5 vote.

The Committee has published the evidence it received on the exemption clauses. It received 46 submissions. Of these:

  • 43 were AGAINST the clauses & 2 more expressed concerns about the clauses
  • 1 SUPPORTED the Government (from the Local Government Association)

Carolyne Willow, Article 39’s Director, said:

“We expected the clauses to be pushed back into the Bill, since the Government has a majority on the Public Bill Committee. That doesn’t take away the sadness and astonishment that children’s universal legal protection could be snatched away with such ease.

“The Together for Children campaign against these clauses continues to grow and we will not stop pressing for Green and White Paper consultation. That shouldn’t be asking for too much, when you consider that this is about the protection granted by Parliament over the past eight decades to the most vulnerable children and young people in our country.”

Also today, the Committee voted 10-5 in support of Government amendments to change the law so that looked after children who are locked up for welfare reasons can be detained under the Children Act 1989 in Scotland.

Such placements are occurring because there are not enough places in England (there’s been a 21% reduction in capacity between 2010 and 2016).

Article 39 opposes this major change to the law. We are supporting the Shadow Children’s Minister’s amendment which would bring an end to the powers in 2019. We believe this would give the Government enough time to resolve the apparent crisis in children’s secure care. 

OUR EVIDENCE TO PUBLIC BILL COMMITTEE – EXEMPTION CLAUSES (updated after discussion with the Department for Education, which confirmed the limitation of their revised clauses)

9 January Community Care piece on exemption clauses, by Article 39’s Director.

Two-year limit urged on legal change to secure accommodation

Article 39 is supporting an amendment to the Children and Social Work Bill, which would force a review of expected changes to the law on placing looked after children in secure accommodation in Scotland.

Since the introduction of secure units more than 30 years ago, the law has required that looked after children only be placed outside England and Wales with the consent of the child and their parent (with some limitations). In December, Children’s Minister Edward Timpson tabled amendments to the Bill that would remove this requirement.

Section 25 of the Children Act 1989, which permits the detention on welfare grounds of looked after children in England and Wales, does not apply to Scotland. However, several children have been placed using different legal orders, due to the lack of places available in England. Timpson’s amendment would allow secure accommodation orders to be made under the Children Act 1989, and children from England to be sent to Scotland. The right to secure accommodation reviews has not been extended, so will not apply to children placed in Scotland under the 1989 Act.

New Clause 27, tabled by Shadow Children’s Minister Emma Lewell-Buck MP, would bring an end to these changes by 2019. This would allow for consultation with children, families and professionals and independent research.

There has been a 21% reduction in secure accommodation places available in England between 2010 and 2016.

Article 39’s Director, Carolyne Willow, states:

“Looked after children who end up detained on welfare grounds are extremely vulnerable. Sending them to Scotland because there are insufficient places in England should only be seen by Ministers as an emergency, stop-gap measure that, frankly, has been caused by poor adult planning. In the vast majority of cases, children’s welfare and happiness relies upon them being placed close to their family, friends and professionals who have been supporting them. It is inevitably much more difficult for social workers and independent reviewing officers to meet their obligations to children when they are placed so far away.”

The amendments will be considered by the Public Bill Committee in the House of Commons on Tuesday 10th January.

7,784 restraints led to injuries in child custody 2007-2015

Data released today to Labour’s Shadow Justice Minister, Andy Slaughter MP, reveals there were 7,784 restraint incidents leading to child injuries in custodial institutions between 2007 and 2015. Across these eight years:

  • 4,092 restraints in young offender institutions resulted in children being injured
  • 2,583 restraints in secure training centres resulted in children being injured
  • 1,109 restraints in secure children’s homes resulted in children being injured

Sixteen institutions closed over the eight-year period.

Counting incidents for only those institutions which remained open for the whole eight years, the data reveals the four secure training centres had a much higher rate of restraints leading to child injuries: an average of 81 incidents per year per institution across each of the eight years.

The average for the nine young offender institutions with data for the full eight years was 48 restraint incidents per year per institution; and for 10 secure children’s homes with full data the average was 13 per home per year.

The five institutions with the highest incidents of restraint leading to child injuries across the whole time period were:

  • Hindley young offender institution, with 969 incidents (run by the UK prison service)*
  • Hassockfield secure training centre, with 945 incidents (run by Serco)*
  • Medway secure training centre, with 833 incidents (run by G4S)
  • Wetherby young offender institution, with 586 incidents (run by UK prison service)
  • Rainsbrook secure training centre, with 577 incidents (run by G4S)

The five institutions with the least number of incidents of restraint leading to child injuries were:

  • Barton Moss secure children’s home, with 7 incidents (run by Salford City Council Children’s Services)
  • Aldine House secure children’s home, with 25 incidents (run by Sheffield City Council Children’s Services)
  • Swanwick Lodge secure children’s home, with 69 incidents (run by Hampshire County Council Children’s Services)
  • Hillside secure children’s home, with 77 incidents (run by Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council Children’s Services)
  • Lincolnshire secure children’s home, with 89 incidents (run by Lincolnshire County Council Children’s Services)

Although the Shadow Justice Minister requested data on the number of child injuries, he was only provided with the incidents of restraints which led to injuries. This means the scale of child injuries remains unknown.

Annual restraint statistics published by the Youth Justice Board have to date included only restraint incidents that led to injuries requiring medical or hospital treatment. These latest figures go further than those released in January 2016, covering all types of injuries, since data for individual institutions is provided for the very first time.

The Parliamentary Question (answered 8 April 2016) is here.

*These two institutions have since closed. The data relates to the periods between the year ending March 2008 and the year ending March 2015.