However one views recent legislative improvements concerning safeguarding, and what ever the laws' intention was in reshaping children's services, one could quite easily argue that on balance, the older a young person becomes, and the more chaotic the lifestyle and behaviour gets - particularly if they are sent to a YOI - then the action taken by some local authorities is to disengage from their Children Act responsibilities. Rather than step-up the 'children in need' support interventions, what can tend to happen is that children's services (the primary agency with statutory responsibility to ensure the safety of young custody leavers, deliver a better quality of care, and increase the life chances of each individual) actually ends up backing off altogether, reducing the chances of that young person ever achieving improved long-term outcomes.
We understand now, that tackling the disadvantage experienced by this group is the joint responsibility of all the agencies covered by legislation such as s.17 and s.47 of the 1989 Children Act, and s.10 and s.11 of the 2004 Children Act. As we know, the statistics relating to these young people tell a sorry tale. Any professional involved in the design or delivery of services to young custody leavers is only too aware that they are not a group who are generally able to just pick themselves up and sort their lives out with minimal input and support.
Continuity: Custody to the Community
The core principle underpinning any effective resettlement model is the dimension of 'continuity of care'. YJB research states that difficulties in achieving this continuity of care for young people in custody relates to the 'lack of consistency and coherence of intervention across all phases of the sentence and beyond'. The suggestion is that services will be required to address not only the challenging situations that the young people experience, but more importantly 'the young person's personal resources, strategies and motivations for responding to those difficulties' (Key Elements of Effective Practice).
The concept of continuity is described as being deceptively simple but hard to achieve in reality and for very good reasons: The two places - custody and the community - are totally different social environments. The first provides a high level of control and a range of support services delivered within a timetabled activity based structure. The second relies heavily on the personal motivation of the individual to adhere to a more social acceptable lifestyle, usually with minimal support once out in the community.
Continuity of care is not likely to occur unless there is a high level of strategic planning and coordination between the various agencies with responsibility to deliver support services, whether they have statutory responsibilities or not (see YJB 7 Resettlement Pathways). Where there is confusion or uncertainty with regard to the necessity of involvement from particular key agencies, continuity is never going to occur. Continuity relies on the proactive nature of service providers, working from an assumption that, because of the statutory nature of legislation, they have an obligation to deliver a service to young people in / leaving custody, in partnership with other agencies.