'Councils take their responsibilities for vulnerable children incredibly seriously and in complex circumstances do all they can to ensure that young people coming out of custody receive the support they need. However, an explosion in the child prison population over the last decade has placed an intolerable burden on councils in an area where resources are already stretched and difficult decisions need to be made.
'The law in this area can be incredibly complicated and the LGA will be working with the Howard League and the government to clarify the responsibilities of councils.'
John Coughlan, vice-president of the Association of Directors of Social Services fully agreed with Mr Laurence's view. He said: 'We anticipate that the recently established joint initiative with the Youth Justice Board to place social workers in young offenders' institutions will also be of enormous help in the future. However it is important, too, that local authorities recognise the important duties they have towards children in their care who end up in custody.'
Howard League press release follows
Chaos, neglect and abuse - new report by the Howard League for Penal Reform
The Howard League for Penal Reform revealed today that local authorities are systematically failing to provide suitable accommodation and support for vulnerable children leaving custody, in breach of their statutory duties, and putting the public in danger of further crime.
Lawyers at the Howard League for Penal Reform have represented over 100 children in custody. Almost all the children had suffered abuse and neglect; many had a history of being in care or had been homeless.
The Howard League for Penal Reform legal team found that local authorities across the country are flouting a whole range of legislation designed to ensure that children do not leave custody bereft of support. Many children are returning to precisely the same situation that led to their imprisonment in the first place.
One of the success stories achieved by the Howard League for Penal Reform legal team featured in the new report concerns Mike
Mike was 16 years old and in prison. He had been effectively abandoned by his parents and began offending at the age of 13. He had learning difficulties and had a history of drug and alcohol misuse. Prior to going to prison, Mike had been homeless and was stealing food and clothing in order to survive.
There were no plans in place for his accommodation and support on release. Despite numerous referrals, the local authority social services department had stated that they would not help Mike as he was 16 years old and could claim housing benefit.
The Howard League for Penal Reform lawyers wrote to the local authority and reminded them of their duties to support Mike under the Children Act. A few days prior to release, his local authority agreed that it would live up to its legal obligations to care for him.
Chris Callender, assistant director and solicitor at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said:
'Many of the children we have represented are vulnerable and challenging. Some have committed serious offences. Not only do these children have a right to be cared for properly, but if they are not, they will continue to wreak mayhem in their communities and put themselves at risk. They absolutely must be given appropriate support for their sake and for the sake of all of us.'
There were 2,951 children in custody on 29 August 2006. 214 were in local authority secure children's homes, 264 were in privately run secure training centres and 2,473 were in prison.
-- 40-49% had been in local authority care at some point
-- 18% were subject to care orders
-- 31% had mental health problems
-- 40% of girls and 25% of boys reported suffering violence at home
-- 33% of girls and 5% of boys reported previous sexual abuse
In the last year, the Howard League for Penal Reform has taken action on behalf of clients against the following local authorities:
Barking and Dagenham
Hammersmith and Fulham
The 32 page report, Chaos, neglect and abuse: The duties of local authorities to provide children with suitable accommodation and support services can be purchased for£15, via the Howard League for Penal Reform website.