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The latest available data from the Youth Justice Board (YJB) shows that in November 2017, 912 children aged between 10 and 18 years of age were detained in youth custody. Youth custody is made up of Young Offender Institutions (YOIs), Secure Training Centres (STCs) and Secure Children’s Homes. 210 of the detained young people were on remand, waiting for their offences to be tried in court. Data from the Youth Justice Board, shows that in 2015/16, 70% of boys were remanded in YOIs.

Since the introduction of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Act 2012,  all children who are charged with an offence and refused bail must be remanded into local authority accommodation or (where certain criteria are met) Youth Detention Accommodation.

Furthermore, whenever a young person is remanded they acquire ‘Looked After’ status, and the local authority Children’s Services where the child ordinarily lives becomes the responsible parent for the length of the remand period. The age and vulnerability of the young person will determine whether they are remanded to a YOI, STC or Secure Children’s Homes. Girls under 18 who are on remand will always be detained in either a STC or Secure Children’s Home.

Findings in Reports from HM Inspectorate of Prisons

In summer 2017, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons Annual Report (
) was published, and it contained alarming findings in relation to young people held in YOIs and STCs.

The Chief Inspector reported that “…perhaps the most concerning findings during the year emerged from our inspections of the custodial estate for children and young people. The outcome of those inspections has been very troubling… and in early 2017 I felt compelled to bring to the attention of ministers my serious concern about our findings. By February this year we had reached the conclusion that there was not a single establishment that we inspected in England and Wales in which it was safe to hold children and young people.

The Youth Justice Board Annual Statistics for 2015-16 showed self-harm rates running at 8.9 incidents per 100 children compared with 4.1 in 2011. Assault rates were 18.9 per 100 children, compared with 9.7 in 2011. Our own surveys showed that 46% of boys had felt unsafe at their establishment.

Violence leads to a restrictive regime and security measures which in turn frustrate those being held there. We have seen regimes where boys take every meal alone in their cell, where they are locked up for excessive amounts of time, where they do not get enough exercise, education or training, and where there do not appear to be any credible plans to break the cycle of violence.”

Later in the year, the report Children in Custody 2016/2017 (
) which draws on young people’s perceptions of their time in YOIs and STCs echoed the findings of the Chief Inspector’s report:

Key findings for boys in YOIs – Many reported poor access to showers and telephones, and some were locked up for 22 hours a day. 48% identified themselves as being from a black or minority ethnic background. 42% reported having been a Looked After Child at some point in their lives. 19% reported that they had a disability. 66% felt the staff treated them with respect.

Within the YOIs, boys on remand reported a poorer experience than those who were sentenced; they reported feeling most unsafe, only 60% were accessing education while on remand and 32% did not feel safe on their first night in custody. 81% said they had received a visit from their social worker, but only 31% felt they had been able to have a say on what was going to happen to them on release.

Key findings for children in STCs – 20% felt they had no one to turn to if they had a problem. Only 67% said they had a key worker in the centre. 49% identified themselves as being from a black or minority ethnic background. Only 9% of children said they would turn to an advocate if they had a problem.

Young People in Youth Custody – What are their Vulnerabilities?

  • Previous History – Many of the children in the youth justice system come from some of the most dysfunctional and chaotic families where drug and alcohol misuse, physical and emotional abuse and offending is common. Often they are victims of crimes themselves. (Review of the Youth Justice System in England and Wales, Charlie Taylor 2016).
  • Distance from Home – Following a dramatic reduction in the number of young people in custody (down 56% since 2011/12), a number YOIs have been closed or reclassified as adult prisons. This means that, on average, children are now likely to be remanded further from home, thereby making it more difficult for family members to visit and maintain contact.
  • Self Harm – Youth Justice Board figures for the year ending March 2016 report that there were 1400 incidents of self harm among young people in custody. This number had increased by 5% on the previous year.
  • Mental Health Problems – In Children in Custody (2017), 27% of young people surveyed in YOIs reported they had a metal health problem.
  • Victimisation – During 2015/ 2016, the Youth Justice Board recorded 2900 assaults against young people in custody.  41% of children surveyed for the report Children in Custody said they felt unsafe, and 29% said they had been victimised by other boys. In addition 32% reported being victimised by staff. Only 1 in 5 boys surveyed said they thought staff would take it seriously if they reported their victimisation.

How Children’s Social Care and Youth Offending Teams can help to Support Young People on Remand

The findings demonstrate clearly that young people in custody can be particularly vulnerable, and the Chief Inspector of Prisons has made it clear to Government ministers that urgent work is needed to make children’s custody safe.

In responding to the Chief Inspector’s Report the Local Government Association have said:

“Councils take their responsibility toward child safety extremely seriously, and work hard to ensure that children and young people are never put in situations that would put them at risk. There is no other situation in which children and young people would be placed into environments that are known to be unsafe, and youth custody should be no exception.”

Now, more than ever, the vital role played by Social Workers, Independent Reviewing Officers and Youth Offending Team workers in safeguarding and promoting the welfare of young people on remand must be prioritised:

  • Promote Available Sources of Support – Make sure young people who are remanded are fully informed about the all sources of support available to them. This could include their social worker, YOT worker, personal / named officer in custody and Independent Reviewing Officer.  Contact details for independent support services, such local children’s rights and advocacy services and national organisations including Childline and the Children’s Commissioner Advice Line should also be provided;
  • Encourage Ongoing Contact with Family Members / Carers – maintaining contact with family, friends and carers is important not only for the well-being of young people while they are in custody, but also to help them when they are released. Families may be able to claim financial assistance to visit young people who are remanded to custody. See website for details;
  • Develop Robust Detention Placement Plans – When a child is first remanded, the social worker will undertake an initial assessment to inform the development of a Detention Placement Plan (DPP). The DPP describes how the YOI, STC or Secure Children’s Home will meet the child’s individual needs. The DPP is wide-ranging and covers safeguarding, including any issues around self harm and bullying. It should look at arrangements for ongoing contact with the child’s family and visits from the social worker, as well as addressing education and health needs.  (For full details see Matters to be Dealt with in a Detention Placement Plan,
  • Role of the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) – The IRO will keep the child’s DPP under review. Reviews for Looked After Children, including children remanded to YDA, must be a child-centred process. Whilst there may be limitations in view of the secure environment, the IRO should consult the child about how they want their meeting to be managed. The review must focus on whether there are appropriate arrangements in place for responding to the child’s needs whilst they are remanded. The considerations that are likely to be most relevant include:
    • Whether there is a DPP in place describing how the child will be supported whilst they remain looked after as a result of being remanded;
    • The quality of contact with the local authority;
    • Arrangements for contact between the child and their family are appropriate and in place;
    • Whether plans for the child have taken their wishes and feelings into account;
    • That arrangements are in place to respond to the child’s health and education and training needs;
    • That the secure establishment takes into account any specific identity and cultural needs of the child; and
    • Whether the child will continue to need support from children’s services when the remand ceases and they will no longer be looked after.


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