Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Children in care and in trouble

There were few surprises for me in the report [1] of the thematic inspection into looked after children subject to supervision by Youth Offending Teams and placed away from home. This is a small group of very vulnerable children and young people who have come into care, probably as a result of abuse and neglect, and who have also been convicted of criminal offences.

The inspection found that the outcomes for these children and young people were generally poor. They were not always protected from further abuse and neglect. Some had been assaulted or sexually exploited while in care. Some were involved in assaults of other children and young people. Several had gone missing.Their education had suffered. Few were well prepared for the transition to adulthood.

This is not a happy picture. While many children who are abused and neglected are able to recover from early adverse experiences, some children are not able to recover satisfactorily without special help.

Some years ago I wrote a research review for the NSPCC on the impact of child abuse and neglect on children’s performance at school [2]. Research shows without doubt that abuse and neglect make more likely a whole range of undesirable outcomes for the victims, including being at greater risk of poor educational performance, mental health problems, behavioural difficulties and involvement in the criminal justice system.

That is not surprising. Some children suffer long-term effects similar to those experienced by military personnel who have been exposed to combat. So they can need expert help and, where appropriate, post-traumatic stress disorder needs to be treated by skilled professionals.

The inspectors’ report did not say as much as I would have liked about the therapeutic services these children were receiving, or not, as the case may be. The impression gained was that the services were sparse and of variable quality, because the inspectors call on local authorities to: “… satisfy themselves that specialist therapeutic interventions provided by residential placements are of good quality and suitable for the needs of children and young people.”

I would go further than that. I believe we need a thoroughgoing review of therapeutic services for abused and neglected children and young people with a view to providing a comprehensive audit of what I believe to be manifest shortfalls.

[1] Looked After Children: An inspection of the work of Youth Offending Teams with children and young people who are looked after and placed away from home. A Joint Inspection by HMI Probation, Ofsted and Estyn ISBN: 978-1-84099-584-8 December 2012
[2] Mills, C (2004) Problems at Home, Problems at School London: NSPCC -