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Keeping children in care out of trouble

Minutes of the meeting of the All-Party Group on Penal Affairs held on 24 May 2016 in Committee Room 14

Speakers

Lord Laming, Chair of the Review
Juliet Lyon, Director, Prison Reform Trust

Present

Lord Ramsbotham (in the Chair)
Lord Bradley
Edward Garnier MP
Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts
Baroness Healy
Baroness Howarth of Breckland
Lord Hylton
Earl of Listowel
Baroness Masham
Lord Woolf


Lord Ramsbotham welcomed everybody to the meeting and especially the two speakers.  Lord Laming would speak about the report which had just been published, and which had received a good deal of media attention. He had known Lord Laming since they were fellow Chief Inspectors, of Prisons and Social Services respectively. It had become clear to him that inspection of YOIs required social services inspectors working alongside prisons inspectors.  Lord Laming had responded at once, and several reports about safeguarding followed. He very much regretted that this had been dropped by the previous government. He invited Lord Laming to speak first, to be followed by Juliet Lyon, Director of PRT, by whom this report had been commissioned.

Lord Laming began by thanking the meeting for its kind invitation. He continued: ‘I always feel slightly self-conscious on these occasions because it is my name that appears on the report but of course a great number of other people have done all the hard work and made it possible.  It would be right to begin by offering a special word of thanks to the Prison Reform Trust, to Lord Woolf who was in the chair at the time, and to Juliet who took the initiative to set up this review.  I hope that their foresight will lead to considerable changes to the life-chances of some of the most vulnerable children in our society. It is also right to thank the sponsors who made this all possible. Without their support it would not have happened.  And I would particularly like to thank all the hardworking and committed staff, who were unbelievably patient with me, particularly Katy Swaine Williams, who has done a wonderful job.

I only want to make three or four points by way of introduction so that we can have plenty of time for discussion.  What came through to me very strongly is that we must first of all recognise that when the state takes on the parenting of a child or young person then it has not only a legal responsibility but also a moral responsibility to be a good parent to that young person. We know that young people do not come into the care of the state for trivial reasons. Almost all of them have had a pretty unfortunate start to their lives.  Most have experienced severe neglect or abuse.  But almost all of them have experienced something which is altogether profound in their lives.  They have lived in chaotic circumstances.  They have not had good role models.  They have not had security.  They have not had love.  They have not had the very foundations that are necessary for every child in order to grow up, to develop social skills, to grow in confidence, to become fulfilled citizens.

If you go, as all of you will probably have done, to secure children’s home or young offender institutions, you cannot help but be aware of the social needs of these young people, and the tremendous gaps in their education.  Because of these gaps, and the absence of social skills, they are not able to articulate their feelings in the way most of us can do.  They are not able to express in verbal terms their frustrations, and at times their anger, some of which is entirely justified, having been let down by the adults they should have been able to look to for love and protection and care in their lives.  And because they lack those skills they can only express their feelings through confrontation and anger.  That is one of the things that is most striking in these young people.  So if we can do something at a much earlier stage in their lives which enables them to recover those gaps, both emotional and educational, then we can help them to lay the foundations on which the future of their lives can be built. If we cannot, then we have to try to do remedial work, which takes place in these settings.  I must say that the staff we saw working there commanded our admiration, and they deserve our support.  To cope with the challenging behaviour of these young people is striking in terms of the demands it makes upon the staff.

At the other end of the scale, before we get that far, we saw some really very good work taking place in some places.  But in other places, we saw children in care having too many moves in their lives; too many moves to different settings; every time they moved they fell out of the education system and had to be reintroduced into it.  They were often not seen as very attractive prospects for a school and therefore there were long gaps in between their placements. All of which led to them feeling in many situations pretty well unwanted, uncared for, and not terribly welcome.  If already you have a feeling that you don’t much matter as a human being, as a young person, you are not very loveable because of what has happened in your life, and if you add on to these feelings of being not very welcome and not very thought about, then these young people develop an incredible sense of isolation.  They don’t much matter and they are not much cared for.

Now the good thing, and the really exciting thing, about this review is that we have identified areas of really remarkable work – quite heart-warming and outstanding work - that makes all of us feel ‘It doesn’t have to be this way because it is not this way here’.  Let me set out what we see as the essential elements of this heart-warming work.  First of all, it is when the key services in an area – and that goes across all the organisational boundaries: the social care services, the education services, the police services, the youth services, the young offender services – come together as a team, each recognising their unique contribution, but each wanting to work collaboratively, sharing their knowledge, their expertise, their resources, and using their resources as flexibly as possible.  Most of all, it involves having a vision about the value of each child, and the importance of the development of each individual, and therefore contributing to a care plan, recognising that for each of these young people in care, or on the cusp of care, perhaps on the cusp of the criminal justice system, we ought to do whatever we can to prevent this downward escalation into crisis and drama.  Instead of the crisis and drama work, what we are working toward is early intervention, seeing how we can use inappropriate behaviour – sometimes unacceptable behaviour - as an educational experience for the child, so that they can learn the implications that we all have to face of our behaviour, rather than introducing blue lights and criminal justice at an early stage.

If a young person commits a serious crime, that is what the criminal justice system is there to address.  There is no problem about that.  What we were concerned about is evidence from magistrates, and from the young people who helped us (who were absolutely terrific) about really rather trivial behaviour, that in normal family life would be dealt with within the family, because these families are strong enough and able to cope with some drama and trauma and tantrums and all the rest of it.  But for a young person who hasn’t experienced family life, who suddenly explodes in anger and throws a plate against the wall, or spreads shampoo across the carpet or whatever it might be; that is an expression that can be treated either as something we can hold onto, to deal with constructively, or it can be treated as criminal damage and the entrance into the criminal justice system.  So we have got to get this right.  Where it is working, it is working superbly well.  Young people are being diverted from care because of early intervention.  They are being diverted from court, because of shared remedial work.  Where they have gone to court, they are being diverted from the more serious end of the criminal justice system. 

What we want to see is positive leadership throughout the whole system.  We want a cabinet subcommittee.  There is virtually no department of government that doesn’t have a part to play in the proper upbringing of children and young people in our society, even the Ministry of Defence - and David will know of the number of young people who are in military services of one kind or another.  We need a cabinet subcommittee, not only to provide an example of working together, but also to create a concordat about how services can be required to work in this imaginative, flexible and effective way for children and young people, and how the state must set itself much higher ambition for every child in care.  Every one of them should matter to us.  Every one of them should be seen to be important, and should know that we care about them.   There might be problems along the way, but Boy! are we going to do our very best to tackle those problems, so that each of these children and young people can have a hope for the future.  Going on that downward spiral from one custodial sentence to another is just a dreadful waste of human life, and it is hugely costly to our society.  It is expensive to keep young people in custody and it is in our interest that all of these young people, every one of them, can have a different life experience.

From that concordat, driven from the centre, from the Prime Minister downwards, through each of the departments, we want every service department to be committed to this way of working.  We want OFSTED and the other inspectorates to be committed to inspecting how many times the police have been called, how many children are not in school, how many times young people have gone missing from particular places.

Colleagues, the message from this report is simply this: it can be done, because it is being done.  Read the report and you will see that it is being done.  And now it is the responsibility of us all to ensure that it must be done.  It must be done everywhere.  Thank you very much’.

Lord Ramsbotham thanked the speaker and introduced Juliet Lyon, PRT Director

Juliet Lyon said she had hoped to be accompanied by some of the young people from the review panel, whose help had been invaluable.  However for very good reasons none of them could be there.  She continued: ‘One of the young people is just setting up her own business; one has a brand new job and did not feel she could ask her new employer for time off; one has her last day at university today; another is working full time in Wales as an apprentice youth worker, and two others are working part time for the Care Leavers Association.  It’s not all good news, and I’m not going to go into detail about two or three other members who are at very difficult points in their lives.  But we have valued the way they have drawn, very generously, on their own experience to help us to understand the situation for young people in care, what they have been through, and their recommendations for change.  We have also had an extraordinary expert advisory panel, which has helped to steer us all along the way, and are the very people who could carry forward some of the detailed recommendations. 

What I like about this report is that it is very practical – as you would expect from our Chair, Lord Laming.  It sets out practically, at every stage in the care system and the justice system and where the two unfortunately collide, ways in which things could be different, ways in which good practice could become standard practice, everywhere. It’s a particular concern for me because I have spent a lot of my life working with young people, and years ago I was a foster mum myself. So I do know what it is like to foster children and be woken up in the middle of the night with all manner of dramas.  But I also know how very loving a lot of the children who entered our lives were.  Our new PRT Chair, James Timpson, as you know, comes from a family where fostering was the thing that they did, perhaps above all else. 

With colleagues, before I arrived at the Prison Reform Trust, I produced a Home Office Research Study called ‘Tell them So They Listen: messages from young people in custody.’  It was used to launch the new youth justice system, along with the Crime and Disorder Act, back in 2000. I will read you what one of them said, because I would like to tell you that things are different – and I can’t yet.  This is what one young woman told our researchers, at that time.  She said: ‘We’ve all been through social services, fostered, children’s homes, getting kicked out of school, secure unit: I am sure we have all been through that road.  It’s like a journey and we have all collected our tickets along the way’.  Time and again we found this litany of broken placements.  One young woman who is a member of the review told us quite plainly that since July 2013 she had been in 16 schools and had 15 different placements all around the country. She said ‘All of my offending has been whilst in care.’

Recognising that most children in care don’t get in trouble with the law, recognising that a few of them come into care in adolescence because they are in trouble with the law, it is still absolutely fair to say that when you look through the PRT end of the telescope and you look at prison from outside, what you see is that almost half of those children in secure centres and YOIs are in care or have been in care.  Then you look outside in the wider community and you discover that fewer than one per cent of children in England are in care, and fewer than two per cent in Wales.  And when you look through that end of the telescope and you see that level of disproportionality you have to do something about it.  It is simply not acceptable to go on saying ‘This is an age-old problem’.  It is, but now we’ve got a blueprint to do something about it, we’ve got a commitment from the Prime Minister, very clearly in the Queen’s Speech, that he wants to make this group an absolute priority for him.  In fact he said at the party conference: ‘These children are in our care. We, the state, are their parents, and what are we setting them up for?   The dole? the streets? an early grave?  I tell you: this shames our country and we will put it right.’

So some of the members of our review panel said our job was to hold people’s feet to the fire.  I don’t know about that.  But it is certainly to make sure this happens, and to not go away until it has happened.  I think it is really important to recognise that although the review has been published yesterday, we are very grateful to the review panel members, and to Lord Laming, who are going to continue to strive until these recommendations become the good practice we’d all want to see.  Thank you very much.’

Lord Ramsbotham thanked both speakers very much.  He wanted to pick up one word from Lord Laming’s presentation. He mentioned his involvement with an organisation called Childhood First, originally the Peper Harow Foundation, which worked with troubled young people.  The BBC had made a film about that organisation, and returned to film two of the protagonists, now running Childhood First homes, 21 years later.  When asked what had made the most difference to them about their time at Peper Harow, both had said the one word: ‘Love’.

The Earl of Listowel said how warmly he welcomed this report, speaking in his capacity as Vice Chair of the Parliamentary Group for Children in Care. He wanted to focus on the mental health needs of the children and also the clinical support and supervision needs of staff and foster carers.

Lord Laming responded that he thought both these issues were really important. One of the reasons for the frequent breakdowns in foster care placements, in his view, was the lack of support for foster parents in dealing with what could sometimes be very challenging behaviour from children and young people. This was why he thought there should be a commitment at the heart of government to ensuring that all the relevant services, and particularly those supporting child development, were in play.

Baroness Howarth endorsed the value of this report, especially in the light of the on-going enquiry into children in care. She wanted to stress that many children were in and out of care, and she hoped we would talk much more about good preventative work, which could keep children with their families.  Secondly, there was a report some time ago about children and the police.  When they were called out, the police frequently did not want to take matters further.  But statistics had to be kept and they often felt obliged to prosecute.  There were some quite simple things that could be done, to change children’s life chances.

Lord Laming agreed completely. A city like Leeds, for example, had a whole-city philosophy and approach to families where there were children with special needs.  Every week, all services had a report on the number of children taken into care, the number of domestic violence cases, of unauthorised absences from school, of juvenile court appearances and the like.   As regards the first point, the statistics were completely unreliable.  Some  children might be taken into care just for a weekend, others for their whole lives.  We needed to get a grip, and do the simple things, and do them well.  It cost £200,000 a year to keep a young person in a secure children’s home.  Just think what preventative work we could do with that.

Juliet Lyon added that she was very grateful to the National Police Chiefs Council, and particularly to Olivia Pinkney, Chief Constable of Hampshire, who was a member of the review. Panel members had thought it important a protocol should be established. They recommended the Surrey model, and another in Wales.

Lord Ramsbotham was interested to hear of the reference to Leeds, and mentioned the link worker scheme, for people entering prison with an acquired brain injury.  Leeds was very much involved in such initiatives.

Gracia McGrath from Chance UK mentioned their early intervention mentoring programme with primary school children and their families. Links were often broken, however, when children were taken into care.  She welcomed the recommendations in this report.

Baroness Masham wondered whether the review had considered families where the parents had problems with drugs and alcohol.

Lord Laming responded that this was a very important issue, and often resulted in problems with school attendance. Proper assessments were needed, but these should not always lead to children being taken into care, where there was scope in the extended family to care for them.

Sarah Evans from Westside School spoke of the school’s work with vulnerable and excluded children aged 11-16, across the London boroughs.  She applauded the success of the Every Child Matters report, and the work being done to link police, social workers and youth court magistrates across some of those boroughs.  However there were many difficulties including high staff turnover, leading to lack of oversight of each child’s progress, and lack of real understanding in some quarters of young people and their needs.

Lord Laming rejoiced at these examples of good practice, showing what was possible.

Fauzia Ashraf (UK APWA) noted the financial support given to foster parents.  What financial support was given to the birth parents, however?  Might that not result in children being able to stay with their families?

Lord Laming responded that we needed to focus on the needs of the child.  We needed to recognise that some parents, perhaps because of issues raised by Baroness Masham, lived such chaotic lives that they could not hold things together and their children suffered.  However, despite some heroic foster parents, we also needed to recognise that the state did not always do a brilliant job either.  Proper assessments were vital.

Mark Blake (Black Training and Enterprise Group) mentioned some work his group had done with BME young people, who said that if they had had an advocate or mentor this would have helped their life chances.  But how did we make that happen? He feared some local authorities remained complacent about this issue, despite improving figures overall.

Lord Laming responded that the review members had very much appreciated BTEG’s help. One of the reasons they had recommended a Cabinet sub-committee on this issue was because the statistics remained stark, and something must be done about that.

Lord Ramsbotham enquired whether this had been referred to Baroness Young, and Juliet Lyon noted that Baroness Young had been a member of this review.   She said that part of the reason they were optimistic was that there were several things coming together: Charlie Taylor’s review of youth justice; Martin Narey’s review of residential care; and the new Children Bill, which had already entered the House of Lords.  Taken together with the Prime Minister’s personal commitment, she hoped that, this time, things would change.

Malcolm Stevens (Justice Care) said he had been involved for many years in this field.  It was the corporate parent, not the birth parent, who phoned the police.  Many of those involved did not know how to deal with challenging behaviour.  What leadership was expected from OFSTED?  And also from the private sector?

Lord Laming responded in respect of the first point that it was the local authority which was responsible for the child as corporate parent. Frequently children were being placed far from their homes. In the worst cases, they were ‘out of sight out of mind’, perhaps in a rural setting which did not equip them for a return to the inner city. As regards OFSTED he was optimistic. There was some exceptional work being done, but some less so, and OFSTED were going to enquire about all aspects of these placements.  There was some really high quality practice in both private and public sectors, and some less good.  It was not the provider that made the difference, but the quality of the provision.  He drew attention to the report’s cover, which was a Koestler Award winner, drawn by a young person in a secure children’s home. He thought it illustrated perfectly the state of mind of a young person in such a setting.

Juliet Lyon then introduced Henrietta, one of the panel of young people who had helped the review members so significantly.  Henrietta had just finished her last day at university, and it was much appreciated that she had made time to come to the meeting.

Henrietta said she thought that the review was amazing and should be on-going. She knew that this group had been challenging to work with, and she paid tribute to Katie, who had been so good at keeping in touch, listening and providing the right environment in which they could tell their stories. Using the arts as a therapeutic tool was what had helped her: she had found something she could fall in love with.  She had been put into care aged 12, had been to numerous foster homes, was moved eight times in one week, had been kicked out of school, and had been arrested for carrying a knife to school. But these interventions had tackled that, and today she had graduated from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. The constant turn-over of settings and workers had been difficult, when she was already so angry about what had gone on in her family.  Her young brother had just been taken into care, and she was battling to ensure he stayed with his present foster carer who was amazing.  He had already been moved twice.  He had a lot of emotional problems which stemmed from the abuse he had suffered at home. She thought that children in care needed things to be done for them earlier on, not when they were getting into the criminal justice system.  Workers needed to go into schools, and the young people needed mentors, care leavers themselves who could demonstrate positive outcomes.  More needed to be done for those leaving care, too, so that they were not just left to cope alone, putting them at risk of offending.  It should not just be those in higher education who received support.  All children needed that early support: that was what had helped her.

Lord Ramsbotham thanked Henrietta very much, and congratulated her on her achievements. He thanked Lord Laming and Juliet Lyon, and said that the number of questions demonstrated the importance of the work.  The up-coming legislation, and associated reports, should provide an opportunity to tackle this, and it was now up to members to take things further. 

The next meeting for the All Party group would be the AGM, on Tuesday 12th July at 5pm, where the speaker was due to be the Secretary of State for Justice, Michael Gove.