Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Residential Assessment

When I stepped down as a member of the Youth Justice Board in 2006, I published a paper suggesting a wide programme reforms that would improve the way we prevent and respond to youth offending. Amongst the proposals was shifting responsibility for youth justice to the Education Department and looking at how residential provision within children’s services, education and health settings could, in appropriate cases, be made more widely available to young people in conflict with the law.

I was interested to see that the DfE review of residential care announced today includes not only children’s homes (both open and secure) but the full gamut of settings in which young people can find themselves living. These include “hostels and supported lodgings, residential special schools, care homes, NHS provision, family centres or mother and baby units, and young offenders institutions or prison”. The review will explore “when and for which children residential care settings of all types should be used”. It’s an ambitious, overdue and important agenda – as a 2003 study noted “historically whether the problem child has been cared for, punished, educated or treated has often been a matter of chance, depending upon which individuals in which agency happened to pick up his or her case.”

There are however two oddities about the review. The first is that a review of youth justice is already underway, announced in September by Justice Secretary Michael Gove. This will be considering inter alia “the delivery models for detaining young people remanded or sentenced to custody and for supervising and rehabilitating young offenders in the community… and the interaction with wider services for children and young people”. These are precisely the services which the DfE review will be looking at.  The centres of gravity of the two reviews are different of course but there is substantial overlap. Let’s hope there is scope for some joint activities between the two reviews as they consider the kind of residential options which might work best for young offenders living away from home .

The other oddity concerns the leadership of these reviews. The MoJ’s youth justice review is being led by a former head teacher, Charlie Taylor and the DfE residential care inquiry is headed up by former prisons chief Martin Narey, (who now sits on the MoJ board). Perhaps this apparent paradox will help ensure that the pieces of work are complementary in scope and consistent in message; or at least avoid the kind of departmental turf wars that  used to characterise policy on the care of troubled and troublesome children.

Martin has plenty of child care experience running Barnardo’s and subsequently advising the Government on adoption and on social work.  I'd like to have seen more transparency in the review documentation about the work he has done in the past for private security giant G4S.    After all the firm runs children’s homes as well as a secure training centre, and presumably stand to gain or lose depending on the outcome of the review. For the avoidance of doubt, Martin and the DfE should make it clear that he has severed his links with the organisation.


  1. Thanks for writing this Rob.

    It was only whilst doing a locum job in 1989 as a Senior Social Worker for a London LA after 15 years in probation that I realised just how bad was the residential care situation for young offenders and that was after Mary Bell but before the Bulger killers -a case that also resonated with me because at a time in the 1970s The Strand, Bootle, from where poor Jamie was led away, was where my wife and I often did our weekly shopping.

    In 1989, there just were no Secure places in residential care anywhere in the UK with London kids frequently sent to Newton Aycliffe.

    The problem was just too big for individuals to deal with and once I was back in Probation it went from my immediate attention because by then Borstals had gone and there was no special focus in places where I worked on Young Offenders not in Prison Service care with so much of the difficulties individualised.

    When I realised that the muddled and reluctant constructor of Probation TR had been, presumably as a sop, given the job of Chair of YOB, I realised the difficulties probably persist.

    Oh, I did write to the then chair when poor Adam whatshisname (Rickwood?) lost his life far from home at 14 - still the youngest ever in recent UK penal history. Killed as a consequence of a neurological disability - not dissimilar to the one I have - dyspraxia.

    Let us hope something good comes from these two investigations - probation seems even further divorced - do YOTs still need to have probation employed practitioners in their teams - I simply have not kept up with developments but the crossover has always been a problem.

    Back in the 70s a then colleague in Merseyside, showed me a succession of Social Worker's SERs - "This young man needs a period of enforced discipline" or suchlike, "which the Local Authority is not resourced to provide"!.

    A bit later I saw the consequences for the poor wretches when I joined the Hindley Neighbourhood Borstal Probation team. we seemed to be getting somewhere but the Prison Service cut back on the education and the trade training courses were often for jobs that did not exist - but it was not replicated and then Borstals were abolished and I moved back down South, a few months before the dissolution, and into mainstream probation again.

  2. PS - the clock on this Blog is still on BST!