All councils are aware that April 2013 brings a big opportunity to introduce new ways of working with children in trouble with the law – a new way to ‘spend and save’.
When the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) makes councils responsible for the costs of children remanded in custody – around 350 children on any one day across England and Wales - they can use it as an opportune time to re-examine their focus and priorities.
This is a chance to invest more in services like remand fostering and supported accommodation for young people, so that children are not remanded to custody when an intensive community sentence would be appropriate. Why is this worth considering? Well the cost of custody is expensive ranging from about £1200 to £4000 a week depending on the type of secure unit, so that if councils can potentially support children in other ways – they can release funds for use elsewhere.
Looking to alternatives to custody is supported by all of us working in the youth justice sector.
The shift in emphasis puts a greater importance on the role of the Youth Offending Teams (YOT) and their liaison with the courts and magistrates. Appreciating this, the Youth Justice Board (YJB) is supporting them in offering better and easier ways of working within the current frameworks.
We have this month published a revised ‘offer’ to youth offending teams and their partners as part of the government’s commitment to increasing local accountability for delivering services, giving local youth offending partnerships maximum freedom and flexibility to adapt to their local context. It is a blueprint for change and we believe it will help them and in turn the young people with whom they work.
There is concern from social workers that their caseloads will increase when the LASPO Act extends ‘looked after’ status to more children remanded in custody. However if the emphasis is on finding alternatives to custody and supporting children much better in the community – linking into the troubled families’ programmes for example – it can still take less resource overall and reduce pressure on community safety budgets as well.
We at the YJB have been working with Local Government Association and Association of Directors of Children’s Services on plans for this change for some time, helping anticipate what it means to shoulder the remand custody budget.
The YJB will still hold the main custody budget for sentenced children and remain responsible for commissioning secure units for children and for placing individual children in custody from court. But we are working closely with local government partners on future commissioning plans.
So next spring will see not just a shift in financial responsibility but also in sharing the thinking and action that will deliver further improvements in youth justice. Implementing LASPO is a chance to support young people and their families and to find the best way forward to protect local communities and potential victims of youth crime by reducing re-offending. At the same time it should be possible to reduce safely the number of children remanded to custody. We look forward to helping achieve this.
Frances Done, chair of the Youth Justice Board