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Children Commissioner’s report on children in custody

23 June 2020
Children Commissioner’s report on children in custody

The Children’s Commissioner has published a report into the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on children in custody. The report details how social distancing guidelines introduced by Public Health England and the government have changed the everyday life of children in custody over a 10 week period, and how this will affect wellbeing, mental health and rehabilitation.

For children in custody, lockdown has been particularly hard, as it has curtailed the limited freedoms they had in normal circumstances. The new guidelines only allow for children to associate in groups of three or four, and most custodial institutions do not have the physical space or staffing levels to supervise the number of groups this would create at any one time, particularly without the support of education staff. This means that for the majority of lockdown, children in Young Offender Institutions (YOIs) and Secure Training Centres (STCs) have only been spending between 40 minutes and three hours out of their cells each day. This means they have reduced or no access to time outside, education, communal meals, and in-person visits.

Some institutions have been taking steps to mitigate the negative effects of the lockdown, such as delivering extra activities such as sports sessions, and providing games consoles and DVD players for children to use in their cells. Some have also provided education packs to be used individually so they are able to continue their education. However, the provision of these alternative services has varied.

Children in custody are often highly vulnerable and need significant support to address their needs. This has been severely limited by the restrictions in place. The Commissioner warns that the restricted regime may have the potential to harm the long-term emotional wellbeing and mental health of young people in custody.

The report outlines a few actions which would help improve the situation:

  • Development of specific guidance for youth justice establishments about how to implement social distancing in a way that protects children's welfare
  • The safe release of some children from custody
  • Restarting the delivery of in-person education across the estate
  • Improving access to family and professional contacts (digitally or otherwise)

The full report can be found here.

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