Headlines: September 6th, 2006



Local authorities are accused today of systematically failing to provide suitable accommodation and support for vulnerable children leaving custody. The Howard League for Penal Reform says this is not only a breach of the councils’ statutory duties but that it also puts the public at risk of facing further crime.

Lawyers at the League have represented more than a hundred children in custody and they say almost all of those had suffered abuse and neglect and that many had a history of being in care or had been homeless. The League’s legal team report local authorities across the country flouting a range of legislation that has been designed to ensure that children are not left without support when they leave custody. Many children, they say, return to precisely the same situation that led to their imprisonment in the first place.

Chris Callender, assistant director and solicitor at the Howard League, 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.”

Today’s report, “Chaos, neglect and abuse: The duties of local authorities to provide children with suitable accommodation and support services”, gives an example of one case where the League intervened. Mike, a 16-year-old boy, had learning difficulties and a history of drug and alcohol misuse. Before going to prison he was homeless and was stealing food and clothing. On his release no plans were in place for his accommodation and support. His local authority social services department said it would not help as he was 16 and could claim housing benefit. Howard League lawyers reminded the council of its duties to support Mike under the Children Act and just before his release, the council agreed to help.

The League, which lists 34 councils against which it has taken action, says that at the end of August there were 2,951 children in custody. Of those 214 were in local authority secure children’s homes, 264 in privately run secure training centres and 2,473 were in prison. Almost half had been in local authority care at some point and almost a third had mental health problems.

Today’s 32 page report, is available via the Howard League’s website at www.howardleague.org