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YOIs and STCs to be phased out in 10 years under care review recommendations

The state of child detention in England is abysmal with both Young Offender Institutions and Secure Training Centres being “wholly unsuitable” for children, the independent review of children’s social care has warned.

Secure children’s homes are almost always better able to provide a more caring, less institutionalised and more supportive environment for young people to recover, learn and eventually return to their family, carer or the community, the report says.

“Young Offender Institutions and Secure Training Centres should be phased out within the next ten years and replaced by local secure children’s homes or ‘Secure Schools’ run or commissioned by Regional Care Cooperatives,” said the report.

Establishing new Regional Care Cooperatives, which would take on responsibility for the creation and running of all new public sector fostering, residential and secure care in a region, as well as commissioning all not-for-profit and private sector provided care for children as necessary, would enable local authorities to take back control of the care system.

The recommendation comes after a National Audit Office report revealed that The Ministry of Justice and Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service expect the number of children in custody to more than double by September 2024, driven by court recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, the impact of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill and government’s plans to recruit around 23,000 additional police officers. https://www.willispalmer.com/number-of-children-in-custody-set-to-double-by-2024/

The independent care review outlines that whilst the prospect of recommending an increase in the number of secure children’s homes, or detaining children for justice and welfare reasons at all, does not always sit comfortably, it is necessary to ensure there is sufficient capacity to end the use of inappropriate and damaging YOIs and STCs in their stead.

It highlights that the current secure children’s home system does not work as effectively as it could with 28% of that capacity unused in 2020 due inadequate design of the homes themselves which prevent them caring for children with ‘complex needs’ at full occupancy, challenges around recruitment and retention of staff, homes refusing to take some children, or capacity being reserved for children living locally when required.

Commissioning and running secure homes - for both welfare and justice purposes – would be the responsibility of RCCs in each region. RCCs should also develop other options of secure care such as remand foster care, or specialist residential care which is capable of providing care, support and treatment for young people with complex behavioural and mental health needs.

“Children should not be deprived of their liberty in YOIs, STCs or secure children’s homes because we have failed to create the options of care they need,” said the report. “Within this regionally led secure system, the review would expect each region to need to have a small number of secure children’s homes and that secure sufficiency would be added to the Cooperative’s regional sufficiency duty.”

At a national level, responsibility for children living in secure children’s homes - for welfare or justice reasons - should become the responsibility of the Department for Education (DfE) so that this failing area of policy is given prominence in a Department that is more likely to focus on children.

The review anticipates that there will be 20 RCCs across England and they should be owned by and fully accountable to local authorities in the regional cluster.

Ofsted already regulate and inspect children’s homes and independent fostering agencies, as well as considering sufficiency planning as part of local authority full inspections. Its powers should be extended to include a market oversight function for the residential and foster care market. Ofsted should create a new framework to inspect RCCs and this should include a focus on the proportion of children who have their needs met, stability of homes and the percentage of children who are able to live close to their community.

Central government should fund the initial set up costs of the Regional Care Cooperatives and, once formed, local authorities will need to spend their existing care budgets through their RCC, the review adds.

Detaining children should be a last resort but, where necessary, “this should be done in secure children’s homes, secure schools or remand fostering, meaning a phasing out of Young Offender Institutions (YOIs) and Secure Training Centres (STCs)”.

“National government should ensure it has an oversight mechanism in place to ensure policy relating to children and families is aligned in contact with children’s social care. Government programmes should be streamlined to support these reforms and youth justice policy should move to the Department for Education,” the report concludes.

Independent review of children’s social care

Working Together For Children

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