The youth justice system

Children in need, and looked after children, in contact with the YJS

Although there is a lack of precise data on the number of children and young people in the youth justice system (YJS) who have also been in contact with children’s social care services as a child in need or a looked after child, the evidence indicates considerable overlap here. The relevance of this for those conducting a HWBNA is the importance of being aware of the overlaps between vulnerable children and young people in contact with the YJS and those in contact with children’s services.

A recent review of young people in young offender institutions (YOIs) found that over a quarter of young men and over half of young women had been looked after at some point (Children and young people in custody 2010-2011: an analysis of the experiences of 15-18 year olds in prison, HM Inspectorate of Prisons/Youth Justice Board, 2011).

Other sources suggest that the proportion of young people who are, or have recently been, looked after (across all age ranges in the YJS, and including those in the community) is around 40 to 49 per cent (Tell them not to forget about us: a guide to practice with looked after children in custody, National Children’s Bureau, 2006; Looked after children: third report of session 2008-09, Volume I, House of Commons Children, Schools and Families Committee, 2009; Accommodation needs and experiences, Youth Justice Board, 2007).

Note that the term ‘looked after child’ includes children subject to a care order (section 31 of the Children Act 1989) and children who have been accommodated by agreement between their parents and the local authority or, if the young person is 16 or over, with their agreement (section 20 of the Children Act 1989).

In relation to looked after children, it is also important to be aware of the statutory duties on health authorities in relation to health assessments and health care plans. Relevant here is Volume 2 of the Children Act 1989 guidance and regulations, especially paragraphs 2.46-2.64 in the main document and Regulation 5(b)(i) and Schedule 1 (paragraph 1) in Annex 3.

When children and young people are sentenced to custody they cease to be a looked after child if they were being accommodated under section 20 of the Children Act 1989. Local authorities still have a duty to visit them, but the duties in relation to health assessments and plans cease. Children and young people who are entitled to ‘leaving care’ support from the local authority retain that entitlement even though they cease to be looked after because they have been sentenced to custody.

Children and young people who are remanded to local authority accommodation or transferred to local authority accommodation from police custody under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) are looked after children for the period of time they remain remanded or detained in that accommodation. Children and young people who are remanded to custody under a Court Ordered Secure Remand can currently be placed only in a secure children's home (SCH) or secure training centre (STC) and they are looked after children for the period of the remand. In future, once the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill becomes law, all children and young people remanded to custody will be treated as looked after children for the period of the remand.

For full details of how Children Act 1989 guidance and regulations apply to looked after children in contact with the YJS, see Chapter 8 and Annexes 4 and 5 of the Children Act 1989 guidance and regulations volume 2: care planning, placement and case review.

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