Ali Crossley, from the Standing Committee for Youth Justice (SCYJ), discusses how young people in custody with special educational needs, are being denied the support that properly addresses their educational needs.
Putting 'education at the heart of youth custody' is without a doubt the Government’s youth justice policy of the moment. It is strange then that the Children and Families Bill, sponsored by the Department for Education, so clearly conflicts with this flagship goal.
Under Clause 69 of the Children and Families Bill, children with special educational needs (SEN) in custody are specifically excluded from the new SEN framework. This is unacceptable. It means that children who have a SEN plan (known as an Education, Health and Care [EHC] plan) will not be entitled to the specified educational support during their time in custody. Children who have previously unidentified SEN will not be eligible for an EHC assessment.
Given that at least 30 per cent of children in custody have SEN compared to 3 per cent of the general population, excluding this group from the framework is illogical. A failure to meet their special educational needs may well have contributed to their entrance into custody in the first place. Custody presents a vital opportunity to start addressing these needs. If the Government fails to extend the new SEN provision to children in custody a vital rehabilitation opportunity will be lost. Furthermore, the Government’s aspiration to put education at the heart of youth justice is unlikely to succeed if the wider needs of young people are not first addressed.
We have been told that there are several reasons for excluding children in custody from the reforms. These include the issue that the provision outlined in the EHC plan is specific to the child’s home local authority and school. And that the average youth custody sentence is 77 days, which is not sufficient time in which to conduct the 20 week EHC assessment. While these are obstacles, they are certainly not insurmountable. It is simply not good enough to give up on trying to extend the SEN framework to these children who so desperately need it just because it is difficult. Yet for too long, this has been the case.
I should point out that the Government has made some positive changes to the Bill since pre-legislative scrutiny. These include requiring local authorities to consult with their local youth offending team about whether local SEN provision is sufficient; and requiring local authorities to review a child’s EHC plan post-custody. While these provisions are a step in the right direction, they fall far short of what is required to address the special educational needs of children at risk of offending and those who offend.
SCYJ and the Special Educational Consortium are calling on the Government to delete clause 69. We have been campaigning vigorously on this issue. Discussions with officials suggest that positive concessions may be made. Specifically we want to see the Minister make a commitment to:
- Continue the EHC plans into custody for children who already have them; and
- Enable EHC assessments to begin in custody for children who don’t have plans.
We cannot afford to let the Government do anything less.
The Standing Committee for Youth Justice (SCYJ) is a coalition of over 30 voluntary sector organisations, which champion youth justice reform. For more information about the SCYJ please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org. We are campaigning on the issue of special educational needs and youth custody together with the Special Educational Consortium.