Nowhere is it more important to shine a light than on the experiences of children in care or incarcerated by the state. Children locked up by the state – whether in young offender institutions, secure children’s homes or in specialist mental hospitals – are both highly protected, ‘visible’ to service providers if not to the public, and acutely vulnerable. A series of critical inspection reports has exposed the poor state of young offender institutions and secure training centres, with unprecedented levels of violence and poor outcomes. There is far less public scrutiny of other secure institutions for children, those designed to help with mental health, behavioural or emotional problems, but which nonetheless remove a child’s liberty.
The Children’s Commissioner and her staff make regular visits to the children’s secure estate, accompanied where possible by influential policymakers and Parliamentarians, and these visits will continue this year.
As part of the Vulnerability framework, we will repeat a survey last conducted in 2016 by NHS England and due to be published this April, to map the location of all beds in the health, welfare and criminal justice secure estate for children, who is in them, and why.
This year we will also track the pathways of children leaving secure custody, to identify the barriers to effective reintegration into the community – housing, mental health and educational support – and report to the new Youth Justice System oversight board.
We are concerned that the wider system around inpatient hospital placements for children is opaque. In order to increase confidence that children at high risk are getting the services they need, we will continue to work with NHS Digital and NHS England to improve data collection and transparency and will publish a comprehensive list of the in-patient mental health units treating England’s most vulnerable children.