Examination of Witnesses (Questions 320-339)|
23 JUNE 2008
Q320 Annette Brooke: I shall look
at just one more issue, which is mainly directed at Bob. We have
touched on it already. We know that there are many residential
homes in certain localities and that children are sent a long
way to them. I had a letter from a council just outside Manchester,
and the concerns were that the host authority was not given information
about the children who came. Equally, the Youth Offending Team
was not given information, but at the end of the day, the resources
to tackle the issues had to be found from the host authority,
and that inevitably meant that the child was not being put first.
You said that it can work and this, that and the other, but it
is pretty clear that it does not work very well, and I have heard
that from other areas, too. In the Children and Young Persons
Bill, there is nothingother than trying to reduce the incidence
of the situationthat will solve the problem, which will
exist for at least the next five years, of such children being
placed a long way from home, with all the agencies trying to shrug
Bob Ashford: I think you are right.
What is also clear is that some local authorities are what we
call exporters of looked-after young people and that some are
importers. I can name probably half a dozenparticularly
large shire countiesthat are net importers of large numbers
of looked-after young people into not just local children's service
provision, but private and charitable residential care, which
also exist in those areas. We are concerned about that from a
youth justice perspective. You are absolutely right and it is
fair to say that over the years there has been some correspondence
between authorities, particularly large exporters and large importers,
about who will provide the services for young people and who will
pay for them. We start with the premise that young people should
receive a service from the authority in which they live, but that
they most certainly must be supported with information and timely
assessments by the authorities from which they emanate. On the
Youth Justice Board issue, we are working with DCSF and looking
at good practice guidelines, which have to be meaningful and to
work for the local authority and local youth offending teams.
We need to try to establish what good practice is, try to ensure
that we disseminate it and then try to ensure that there are some
effective levers on local authorities and youth offending teams
to implement and follow it. One positive thing that has happened,
in terms not just of support, but of outcomes for young people,
are the public service agreements whereby the targets for children's
services, youth offending services and so on are becoming more
joined together. There are now targets and indicators around reducing
offending and reducing first-time entrancethat is, young
people going into the youth justice systemand those targets
are set by the local authority that has responsibility for children's
services and housing, and primary responsibility for youth offending
teams. I am hopeful that that move will have some positive benefits
for looked-after young people.
Q321 Annette Brooke: Very quickly,
because I am not sure from your answer, are there guidelines or
regulations that say that the exporter has to tell the importer
that a child is arriving and pass on any information?
Bob Ashford: Yes, there are. I
understand that there is already guidance and that that does happen,
but I am talking about good practice guidance. It is one thing
to say that it is in a piece of legislation or somewhere else,
but what does it mean in practice? We are trying to draw up what
it means in practice, and what good practice is in terms of delivery.
Q322 Annette Brooke: And do we
have any time scale? It seems to me that this is urgent.
Bob Ashford: Work is being done
on the guidance as we speak, and I would hope that certainly within
the next few months we would have something that we can distribute.
Q323 Chairman: We looked at prisoner
education in a previous Committee, and we were always told that
the trouble is around keeping records up to date and moving them
on with the person concernedchurn. Do most of the young
people spend very short times in institutions and the criminal
justice system? Is it mainly short-term?
Bob Ashford: Hugely variable.
Chris Callender: The average sentence
is a four to six-month detention training order, which means that
they spend two to three months in custody. Eight to 12 weeks would
be the average sentence for a child.
Bob Ashford: But in terms of residential
care, of course, it can be variable.
Q324 Mr Chaytor: May I make a
quick point on the division of responsibilities? Earlier, Chris
gave the example of Italy. I recall that you said that for every
child in Italy who is picked up by the police, a welfare report
has to be done first and foremost.
Chris Callender: That is correct.
Q325 Mr Chaytor: Who has to do
Chris Callender: A designated
Q326 Mr Chaytor: So 24 hours a
day, whatever the circumstances, any child under the age ofwhat,
18 or 16?
Chris Callender: Fourteen is the
age of criminal responsibility.
Q327 Mr Chaytor: A welfare report
is done for them. Would that be completely impossible in the UK?
How far are we from doing that?
Chris Callender: No, of course
it would not be impossible. It depends on how we divert and apply
our resources. As Bob said, there are social workers on youth
offending teams, so, in theory, we have people who are qualified
and trained to undertake such assessments. It would simply be
a question of increasing the level of resources at that end on
a welfare basis. Coming back to Annette's point, there is a division
between the youth offending teams and the children's services.
There are fights between them, and we have had to come in. In
the case that I mentioned of K v. Manchester City Council,
we had to go in with the High Court to sort out the fight. We
said, "No, that is the job of children's services, not the
Youth Offending Team." I feel some sympathy for youth offending
teams. They are unquestionably put upon in the way that Di mentioned.
Q328 Mr Chaytor: A quick supplementary.
Every custody office in the country has a duty social worker available
24 hours a day, so why is the welfare report not done by the duty
Chris Callender: Do you mean a
custody officer in a police station?
Mr Chaytor: Yes, in a police station.
Chris Callender: That is not how
the system works.
Mr Chaytor: There are social workers
Chris Callender: There is an emergency
duty team, of course, but it could be a custody officer or it
could be a member of the community who you could call in and say,
"I found this stray child. Can you do something?" You
could leave a message on the message system in the hope that someone
might get back to you.
Chairman: Thank you, David.
Q329 Mr Heppell: From what I understandfurther
to what the Chairman said; I do not consider myself an expert
on such thingsif you go into care under a voluntary agreement
and then you get involved in the youth justice system, you do
not get looked-after status in court. What does that mean? Should
the children in that 30% have looked-after status, and what difference
does it make to how they are treated?
Dr Hart: Those are the section
20 children. As custody is not considered to be a placement provided
by the local authority, if a child enters custody, they are no
longer considered to be the responsibility of the local authorityin
terms of the local authority being their corporate parent. They
might still be a child in need, but they are no longer a looked-after
child. As Chris says, in practice that means that some local authorities
will then just close the case and say, "That child is not
our responsibility while they are in custody. Give us a ring when
they are due out and we might, or might not, accommodate them
again." Those children are in complete limbo. The fact that
they are in the care system usually means that their parents,
for whatever reason, are not providing good enough care, yet the
expectation is that suddenly those parents will have to resume
their parenting. The Bill attempts to strengthen that arrangement
by saying that the local authority will still have a duty to visit
those children, but it does not sayI think that a lot of
this will be in regulations and guidancethat it will have
to assess them, provide services for them, and arrange for them
to have somewhere to live. All it says at the moment is that the
local authority will have a duty to visit them.
Q330 Mr Heppell: Can I just get
this right? Would there, with the other 70%, be a duty to assess
them and to provide services for them?
Dr Hart: The young people on a
care order remain on a care order. In theory, their home local
authority would still have parental responsibility for them while
they were in custody. In reality, there is variation in how that
is interpreted. Some local authorities are very confused about
the fact that they are subject to such things as a sentence planning
system. You have two parallel planning systems that do not mesh
together. Certainly, some local authorities do not actively continue
their parenting role with children on care orders in prison, even
though, statutorily, they are meant to.
Chris Callender: To be crystal
clear, a child who comes under section 20, or who is looked after
and accommodated, requires a detailed assessment of their needs:
clothing, education, contact with family, employment, training,
where they are going, what their future is and what their wishes
are. So, you have a long list, which is very nicely worked out
in the framework of the assessment of children leaving their families,
and a care plan, and they are engaged in that. If you come under
section 20, you should be looked after as though you had a mum
and a dad, but we find that that does not happenthere is
not a proper assessment. Once they go in to custody, as Di says,
it certainly will not happen. We have even had to go to the Court
of Appeal about a child who was coming out because the local authority
refused to acknowledge that her conditions, or factual situation,
came under section 20. It was prepared to release her only to
a bed and breakfast.
Q331 Mr Heppell: Are you saying
that, in some respects, it is not just the 30% who are not getting
what they should, but the others as well?
Chris Callender: Absolutely, yes.
Q332 Mr Heppell: Going further
than that, presumably you are saying that, at the very least,
the 30% should be included with the rest in terms of having looked-after
Chris Callender: Yes.
Q333 Mr Heppell: What about other
children? I see that the Howard League is proposing that if you
come in touch with the criminal justice system, you should automatically
get the status of a looked-after child because you had fallen
through the net and something had happened. Would that not criminalise
the care system? Would it not be the case that people would rather
go to court than get put into the care system?
Chris Callender: I guess that
that is a reaction to the problem that we are seeing day to day.
These children slip through the netand the net is not that
good anyway. If they can get out of custody because they have
somewhere to go, they reoffend and they are back in custody again.
The problem that we are finding is that we have to struggle to
engage local authorities to look after these children. That is
why I come back to the point that we have had to go to High Court
judges to get orders, to get injunctions, to get the rights and
entitlements of those children met, to get them into suitable
accommodation, and to provide them with support. The problem is
that if we do not have some way of making sure that local authorities'
attention is brought to these children, they will continually
slip through the net. The imperative of being looked after leads
into the leaving-care rights for those children. Those children
are often very vulnerable even by the time they turn 18they
are no longer children, but they still have not managed to sort
their lives out and they still do not have suitable accommodation.
As care leavers, they would be entitled to support until they
Bob Ashford: Just to add to what
Chris is saying, with which I largely agree, we would have liked
to have seen the section 20 statusthe voluntary care statusremain
for young people when they go into custody for all the reasons
that he cites. We are obviously pleased to see the duty to visit
those young people who were previously looked-after children under
section 20, but our point is that the person who visits those
young people is crucial. We do not feel that it is enough for
local authorities to say that the youth offending team can do
these visits to young people who were section 20 accommodated.
We feel that should be done by a qualified social worker working
within a children's services department who has access to the
resources of that department. I am also encouraged by the development
of the youth crime action plan, which is looking at resettlement.
There is no longer going to be a resettlement Green Paper, but
that work is now being encapsulated within the youth crime action
plan. That plan looks at the issues that Chris has raised, not
just for young people who are looked after, but for all young
people leaving custody, because there is a real concern, which
we have had for a long time, about the services that are or are
not available to young people who are leaving custody. That is
not just whether they have a home to go to, but whether they have
a family to go to, a GP, a job, training and so on. We know that
unless young people are prepared for leaving custody properly
in terms of their rehabilitation, they will be back in custody
within a short space of time. For us, the issue is about how looked-after
children leave custody, but there is also an issue about all young
people who leave custody and the services that are available to
Chris Callender: In a way, that
is nothing stronger than David's point. Do we not have social
workers on call in police stations? Let us just check how they
are doing. We are not trying to force anything upon anybody, but
we want merely to check that these kids are all right, because
often they really are not.
Q334 Fiona Mactaggart: I am very
interested in where we got to on the last point about resettlement,
leaving custody and the experience of all young people, but particularly
looked-after young people. I was rather shocked when a charity
that I was involved in was working to provide housing directly
from the prison gate to see what impact that had on the prospects
for young peoplenot particularly young people in care,
although obviously the impact is much more acute for those young
people because they often do not have family to fall back on in
quite the same way. The absolute impossibility of getting sensible
referrals when housing was available made me realise how badly
we were failing young people who were leaving custody, whatever
their circumstances. I know that the Youth Justice Board has started
putting social workers into YOIs. Has that made any difference?
Bob Ashford: The simple answer
is that it has. An evaluation that is due out soon will show that,
in terms of the contacts, knowledge and expertise of those social
workers within youth custody, it has been extremely valuable.
There are issues, as I am sure you are aware, about the continuation
of funding. It is secured until the end of 2009-10, I believe,
when the funding for those social work posts will be the responsibility
of local authorities.
We have some concernsI will be quite frankabout
how, if and when local authorities will be able to pick up that
responsibility, given the other budgetary pressures in social
services. Coming back to the point about accommodation, I could
not agree more. One of the biggest issues that young people face
when leaving custody, whether they are looked after or not, is
the provision of suitable accommodation. Chris made the point
earlier about how we do not consider unsupervised, unsupported
bed and breakfast for 15 or 16-year-olds to be suitable accommodation.
We would not put our own children into that type of accommodation,
and nor should we expect that for young people who areagain,
as Chris sayssome of the most vulnerable and sometimes
disturbed. We are setting them up to fail. That is why the youth
crime action plan is looking at the importance and role of accommodation
agencies and registered social landlords for young people within
the youth justice system. Part of the difficulty in the past has
been that accommodation is supplied by what we call second-tier
authorities. If you have a shire or rural county, below that will
come another tiera second tierof local authority.
Very often, responsibility for children's services and youth offending
services lies with the top-tier local authority, but responsibility
for accommodation and registered social landlords rests with the
second-tier local authority. That has been a problem. One thing
that the youth crime action plan is looking at is the notion of
having accommodation officers and accommodation agencies as part
of the youth offending team steering groupcurrently, they
are not legislated to be part of that steering group. We think
that that is one thing that would certainly help the process.
There need to be incentives and some effective levers if accommodationnot
just accommodation, as I said, but appropriate, suitable and supported
accommodationis to be provided to these particular young
people. One area that we have developed, which we have outlined
in our submission, is around intensive fostering. We believe that
that has huge benefits, not just in terms of resettlement, but
also to prevent young people from going into custody in the first
place. It is a structured and successful provision. Again, the
early evaluation shows that these schemes are successful, not
just as a way of preventing young people from going into custody,
but for young people leaving custody and being supported after
that as well.
Q335 Fiona Mactaggart: But how
could you structure the kind of tag that you attach, as it were,
to a young person in care to ensure that they did not pass the
accommodation test just by someone ticking a box to say that they
have referred them to the B and B down in Hastings or somewhere,
which is what too often seems to occur?
Chris Callender: Bob is right.
The judgment that we had in the Hammersmith and Fulham case in
the House of Lords was on this point. In that case what is called
a unitary authorityHammersmith and Fulhamhad responsibility
for housing and social services. Kent or Essex is where you would
get the problems. You get the County Council responsible for social
services, but within that you have lots of other little authorities
dealing with housing. The answer is simple: you do not put children
through the homelessness route. You do not dump them in bed and
breakfasts, which is what the homeless persons unit is all about.
You look after these children. Sixteen and 17-year-olds are the
big group that get dumped in that wayI use dumped,
because that is how it feels when I am talking to these kids.
They are placed in bed and breakfasts under Housing Act legislation.
Sometimes they are found intentionally homeless. You have 16-year-old
children wandering around the streets of England who have been
found intentionally homeless. Therefore, the housing authority
has no duty to them and social services are merely ignoring them.
That is the end result. The Hammersmith and Fulham judgment was
on just that point. It was about a 17-year-old girl whose mother
was dying with a tumour and could not cope with her daughter.
The local housing authority found her intentionally homeless.
Social services never blinked an eyelid. It did not even look
at her; it did not even touch her. The reality is that there should
be a protocol. These people should be communicating with one another.
The difficulty is that the Housing Act legislation allows local
authority social services to sidestep their duties by pushing
people down the homelessness route. Therefore, they are placed
into accommodation that is inappropriate, unsuitable and unsupported,
which then leads to offending and, we would say, custody. There
are successes. In the case of the Sutton judgment, which was in
the Court of Appeal, that girl, Jade, went on not to reoffend.
She did two years for a serious offence, but she has not reoffended
because she had stable accommodation. She did not get the best
serviceit took too long to get the judgmentbut once
we got there, with the stability of a home that she could call
her own and a room that she could personalise and make up as her
own, she stayed out of trouble. That was a very good result, actually
with very minimal input. You raised the point about social workers
and YOIs. I deal with these people on an almost day to day basis,
and these big YOIs with lots of kids are overwhelmed, as you can
imagine. Their focus is on the children who are already in the
system, and part of my evidence is about those children who slip
through the net. I say that that is a massive proportion of those
children whom we need to reach. Their big problem is that when
they ring a local authority, it says, "No, we're not doing
it." They then ring us and say, "Hey, we're having problems
getting this local authority involved." We might then need
a High Court order.The problem that they face is similar to the
one that youth offending team workers face. It is a question of
enforcement, and they lack the ability, independence and legal
access to justice, so they bring those children and we give them
access to justice. That is not a bad job at the end of the day,
but it is regrettable that they need to go that far. It is regrettable
that when they complete referral forms, the local authorities
that they contact do not engage. I agree with the youth crime
action plan. It is very important to move towards welfare and
to start to meet the needs of children. If we do that, it might
prevent them from reoffending.
Q336 Fiona Mactaggart: Do you
think that if you move responsibility for youth crime to children's
trusts, as is proposed, that will help, make a difference or be
window dressing? What difference will it make?
Chris Callender: To be tried and
tested, in part. The problem with children's trusts is that they
are not created as a statutory duty. The beauty of section 20
of the Children Act is that it creates a statutory duty. In the
last analysis, we can try to enforce that if it comes to it and
ensure that it happens. Children's trusts need a statutory duty
and statutory force behind them.There is also the question of
funding and how it will materialise and be channelled. Things
are moving in the right direction and the right language is being
talked, but the question is whether the right structures are in
place for the plan to work.
Bob Ashford: Just to add to that,
the point about children's trusts and their roles was a leak in
the press. In future, I would like children's services to be given
more responsibility. I would like more levers for, and more accountability
of, children's services so that they deliver services to young
people who are offending, particularly regarding custody and rehabilitation.
On the structure, I firmly believe that the current structure,
whereby the local authority Chief Executive has the primary role
with youth offending teams, is right. That brings together not
just children's services, but, in unitary authorities, housing
departments. It also brings together the role of the local authority
chief executive as part of the local strategic partnership and
their links with policing, courts and so on. I do not want responsibility
for youth justice to go to just one agency. A local authority
Chief Executive bridges different agencies, in both justice and
welfare, and that is an important place to be. Children's trusts
are largely untried and untested. If you talk to chief executives
of children's trusts in different parts of the country, as I am
sure that you have, you will find that they are entirely different
in terms of their development, how long they have been there,
how long they have been formed, what their structure looks like,
what they are responsible for, and what their funding looks like.
They are very much at different stages of development. If lead
responsibility were to be handed to those agenciesor any
other agency, but particularly children's trustswe would
have some reservations about how prepared and ready they were.
Also, we are sending out a message about placing responsibility
for youth justice wholly in a children's service organisation.
We believe that it is important to keep on board the police, courts
and the justice elements alongside, and balanced with, child welfare
in children's services.
Q337 Fiona Mactaggart: But I think
what we are hearing is about child welfare and the concerns of
children, particularly looked-after children. Many of the children
who are involved in the justice system have parents who are not
very good at being parents. It is not up to us to judge, but they
have struggled, and one of the reasons for their children getting
messed up in the system is that they have not done as well as
they had ambitions to, or as well as children have a right to
expect. Nevertheless, in the case of those children, wethe
state, all of usare their parent. It seems to me that at
the moment, the justice bit of all this is trumping the parenting
bit. There are various, quite robust, legal requirements in the
justice bit of all this, but in most cases there are not very
robust requirements in the parenting bit. I want to hear from
you some practical steps by which we can stop the justice bit
trumping the parenting bit. That is really what I am looking for.
Chairman: We are getting a bit short
of time, so can we riffle through the answers? Di, Chris and then
Dr Hart: I certainly think that,
as Bob has said, there are some very complicated strategic partnership
arrangements with multi-agency involvement. What is lacking is
a clear line of accountability. The more people who are involved,
either at strategic level or on a case-by-case basis, the more
confusion there is about who is ultimately responsible. I think
that social care felt that with the Crime and Disorder Act 1998,
they were somehow being let off the hook in terms of young people
who offend, and that they were handing them over to the people
with primary responsibility. That does not work for looked-after
children. Social care needs to be brought to centre stage again
and held to account for the outcomes for the children that it
looks after who are in the criminal justice system.
Chris Callender: I agree with
that, and much of what I have been saying today is about the fact
that we are failing to meet and reach those children and to parent
them. You are absolutely rightwhen no one else is there
to parent them, it is absolutely our responsibility. Parliament
has said that that responsibility lies with the children's services
arm of the local authoritywe find that in the Children
Act and all its associated guidance on how to parent. The reality
that we find on the ground, not only for children who are in custody
or coming out of it, is that when we look back into children's
history and lives, at the times when they most needed itand
we knew thatwe failed to look after them. They then went
on to offend. The way through this is in how the children's services
department is runwith children having consistent support
and not being moved around the country, and with quality assessments
and planning involving such children. We have stuff there already,
but it is a matter of ensuring that that happens.
Bob Ashford: I am not going to
get assurance about the justice part of it trumping the children's
services part of it, because currently youth offending teams deliver
about 11,000 parenting interventions every year to the parents
of young people who offend. They work with about 25,000 young
people who are at risk of offending to try to prevent them from
doing so. They deliver a wide range of children's welfare services
as well as a justice element. We need to concentrate more on what
more children's services can do for that group of young people.
We have heard from Chris and Di, and I absolutely agree; for me,
it is about trying to ensure that there are some statutory levers
in either legislation or guidance to spell out crystal clearly
the responsibility not just of children's services, but of health
and accommodation agencies, towards young people who offend, particularly
those who are looked after.
Chairman: A quick one from you, Sharon.
Q338 Mrs Hodgson: I need two figures,
if you have them. You mentioned that there are 3,000 children
in custody in the UK. Do any of you know how many are on the youth
offenders register, and how many children have looked-after children
Bob Ashford: The simple answer
is that I do not have those figures on me, but we can certainly
supply you with the number of people who are on the books of youth
offending teams.13 How many of those are looked afterI
do not believe that we keep that information.
Q339 Mrs Hodgson: No, one is not
included in the other. I want to know how many children in the
whole country, regardless of whether they are offenders, are classed
as looked-after children.
Bob Ashford: The DCSF would know
that, certainly, but I do not have the figure heresorry.
Dr Hart: I think that it is about
60,000, but of course that is from birth right up to 18.
11 See Ev 194 Back
See Ev 195 Back