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Safeguarding Young People in the Secure Estate

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All children and young people living away from home including those in the custodial secure estate (e.g. Youth Offenders' Institutes, Secure Training Centres or Secure Children's Homes) are entitled to receive the same standards of care and protection from harm that they would receive from any reasonable parent.

There are a number of essential safeguards which every agency should have in every setting where it holds the responsibility for children and young people living away from home to prevent harm. They are as follows:

  • Young people should feel valued and respected and their self esteem promoted;
  • There is openness on the part of the institution to the external world and external scrutiny, including from families and the wider community;
  • Workers are trained in all aspects of safeguarding; alert to children's vulnerabilities and risks of harm; and knowledgeable about how to implement the child protection procedures;
  • Young people have access to a trusted adult outside the institution and are made aware of the help they could receive from Childline and other help lines;
  • Complaints procedures are clear, effective, user friendly and readily accessible to children and young people, including those who are disabled and for whom English is not their first language;
  • Recruitment and selection processes are rigorous;
  • There are clear procedures available for workers to voice their own concerns about other staff without prejudicing their own position and prospects;
  • There is a respect for diversity and sensitivity to race, culture, religion, gender identity, sexuality and disability;
  • There should be a focus on the particular needs of young women and girls.

It should be noted that children and young people living away from home are more vulnerable to abuse by other children and young people.

The Children Act 1989 applies to children and young people in the secure estate and the local authority continues to have responsibilities towards them in the same way as they do for other children. The Safeguarding Children Partnership will have oversight of the safeguarding arrangements within secure settings in their area.

The Youth Offending Team will be the point of contact for secure estate staff throughout the young persons detention and should also include staff from the Safeguards/Social Work Team.

Whilst professionals working with this group of young people will generally be employed within the Youth Offending Team, all professionals must be mindful that young people placed in the secure estate face significant dangers and may be at risk of:

  • Suicide or attempted suicide;
  • Self harming;
  • Emotional and mental health problems/needs;
  • Bullying;
  • Involvement in further criminal activities or drug abuse;
  • Racist or homophobic attack;
  • Radicalisation

This is not an exhaustive list of potential risks.

It should also be noted that young people who are or have previously been Looked After may be at enhanced risk.

Safeguarding decision-making applies at the earliest stage possible and its effectiveness will be based on a joint approach by the multi agency Youth Offending Team, Children's Social Care and the secure establishment.

The Youth Offending Team will ensure that the level of risks and vulnerabilities are comprehensively assessed and recorded (as part of an Asset Assessment) whenever there is a likelihood of a custodial outcome for a young person. Relevant information that is known about the young person by all agencies should be shared with the Youth Offending Team for this purpose. This will be forwarded to the relevant secure estate venue once a court decision has been made and placement identified.

Each Young Offenders' Institution, Secure Training Centre and Secure Children's Home must maintain and follow policies and procedures, which set out how they are going to fulfil their safeguarding responsibilities and which are consistent with the Safeguarding Children Partnership for its area, and which are also outlined in Working Together to Safeguard Children.

This will include how they deal with bullying incidents and child protection concerns, the rewards and sanctions policy of the establishment, the management of challenging behaviour and use of restraint, healthcare and substance misuse procedures, complaints and advocacy procedures, staff recruitment and information sharing.

The professionals working with the young person must ensure that the young person is aware of, or knows how to access, the safeguarding policies and procedures for the secure estate venue within which they are living.

During the custodial period, the joint safeguarding responsibilities will continue to apply.

The Youth Offending Team will be the point of contact for secure estate staff throughout the young person's detention. They, together with Children's Social Care in appropriate cases, will put in place a re-settlement plan for the young person on release. This will include liaising with community-based agencies that can contribute to the welfare needs of the young person and facilitating information sharing exchanges that will assist the young person on their release.

However, all professionals involved with the young person must update each other on any developments relating to the welfare of the young person and their needs.

All agencies must also be aware of any ongoing safeguarding arrangements for the young person prior to their release, their part in those arrangements and who is the coordinator.

Young people in the secure estate may be there on remand or because they are the subject of a custodial sentence.

If they are remanded to local authority accommodation and in a secure placement, they are regarded as Looked After by the local authority for their ordinary residence and will be the subject of statutory social work visits and Looked After Reviews chaired by an Independent Reviewing Officer for that authority. (The statutory social work visits are in addition to monthly visits by the Youth Offending Team).

Children who are refused bail and remanded become Looked After for the duration of their remand period.

When a child or young person under 18 is remanded or sentenced to custody, the Youth Custody Service (YCS) decides where they should be placed. This will be either at a secure training centre, secure children’s home or under-18 young offender institution (for young males only).

The placement decision is based on the information provided by youth offending teams (YOTs). The YCS’s Placement Team will contact YOTs to make sure the needs, risks and circumstances of each young person has been taken into account.

There are three types of secure accommodation in which a young person can be placed, which together make up the secure estate for children and young people:

  • Young Offender Institutions (YOIs) - YOIs are facilities run by both the Prison Service and the private sector and accommodate 15- to 17-year-old boys. Young people serving Detention and Training Orders can be accommodated beyond the age of 17 subject to child protection considerations;
  • Secure Training Centres (STCs) - STCs are purpose-built centres for young offenders up to the age of 17. STCs can accommodate both male and female young people who are held separately. They are run by private operators under contracts, which set out detailed operational requirements. There are 3 STCs in England;
  • Secure Children’s Homes (SCHs) - Most SCHs are run by local authority children’s social care. They can also be run by private or voluntary organisations. They accommodate children and young people who are placed there on a secure welfare order for the protection of themselves or others, and for those placed under criminal justice legislation. SCHs are generally used to accommodate young offenders aged 12 to 14, girls up to the age of 16, and 15 to 16-year-old boys who are assessed as vulnerable.

All these establishments have a duty to effectively safeguard and promote the welfare of children and young people, which should include:

  • Protection of harm from self;
  • Protection of harm from adults; and
  • Protection of harm from peers.

If information comes to light from whatever source that a young person has suffered or is at risk of suffering Significant Harm in the secure placement, the information must immediately be shared with the Head of Safeguards, Child Protection Coordinator or Duty Governor within the YOI.

The investigation of child protection incidents that take place within the secure establishment is the responsibility of the local authority for the area where the secure establishment is located.

The home authority of the young person concerned is not the investigator in these circumstances although the home Youth Offending Team and Children's Social Care must be consulted and share information as required.

If a formal referral is made to Children's Social Care, a Strategy Discussion/Meeting will take place, led by the Children's Social Care for the area where the young person is placed. This should include information shared by the YOT/Children's Social Care.

The Strategy Discussion/ Meeting must agree:

  • The measures necessary to safeguard the young person's welfare;
  • Whether a Section 47 Enquiry should be initiated by Children's Social Care and the Police, and if so, the remit and timescale for this; and
  • The respective roles of the various agencies involved.

If a child in custody dies a joint agency approach should be adopted, in line with Sudden and Unexpected Death in Infancy and Childhood: Multi-Agency Guidelines for Care and Investigation (2016). In addition, if a child in custody dies or is seriously harm and abuse or neglect are known or suspected this should be reported to the national Child Safeguarding Practice Panel via the Child Safeguarding Incident Notification System. The process for reporting incidents is set out in the following: Report a Serious Child Safeguarding Incident (GOV.UK).

Last Updated: January 8, 2024