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Children in custody Task

In England and Wales, individuals under 18 who are sentenced to custody are sent to secure centres for children, not adult prisons. The reason for a child being sent to custody is if the offence is serious enough that a fine or community sentence cannot be justified. A child may also be sent to custody on remand. The Youth Custody Service will determine which centre the child is sent to, taking into consideration an assessment by the Youth Justice Service, the child’s needs, and their age and gender. The chosen centre will be the one best suited for caring for the child and closest to their home. Note that youth justice systems may differ in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Upon arrival at the secure centre, the child will be immediately interviewed by the reception officer to assess their needs, such as healthcare. Some of the child’s belongings, such as money and phone, will be taken away for safety and security reasons, and the child will be searched for items that may cause harm to themselves or others, such as drugs. Within the first few days, the child will meet their Custody Support Plan (CuSP) officer, who will serve as the main point of contact for the child during their stay in the secure centre. Additional information on the support available for a child in custody can be found.

During their time in custody, children will engage in a variety of activities such as education, job skills training, and programs to address issues that may have contributed to their offending. They will also participate in sports, fitness and other recreational activities. There are strict rules in place and children may be required to undergo counselling for alcohol or drug issues.

There are three types of secure centres for children: young offender institutions, secure training centres, and secure children’s homes. Young offender institutions are run by the Youth Custody Service or private companies and house young people aged 15 to 21. They are split into wings of 30 to 60 children.

Secure training centres are run by the Youth Custody Service or private companies and house children aged 12 to 17. They are usually smaller than young offender institutions and split into units of 5 to 8 children and provide 30 hours of education and training per week.

Secure children’s homes are run by local councils and house children aged 10 to 17, providing 30 hours of education and training per week as well.

To visit a child in a secure centre, you must first arrange your visit by contacting the centre to find out what you need to do.

Family members and friends can request to visit, but those under 18 must be accompanied by an adult. Support professionals, such as social workers or legal advisers, can visit at any time.

Each centre has specific visiting times and you are not allowed to visit outside of these times. Generally, a family member or friend can visit once a week, and up to three people can visit at one time. Additional visitors require permission.

Help with travel costs may be available for family members, but the rules and process for claiming money back vary depending on the centre.

Contact information for the relevant authorities for each type of centre is provided for help with travel claims and assistance with costs.

Travel claims for visiting a young offender institution (YOI)

Contact HM Prison and Probation Service to claim for a visit to a YOI.

HM Prison and Probation Service
Telephone: 0300 063 2100
Monday to Friday, 10:15 am to 11:45 am and 2:15 pm to 3:45 pm

Travel claims for visiting a secure children’s home

Contact the child’s youth justice service to claim for a visit to a secure children’s home. The document ‘AVS1 – Assisted visits scheme information for relatives’ will give you information on this. You need to complete form AVS2.

Travel claims for visiting a secure training centre (STC)

Call the STC you’re visiting on one of the following numbers. Ask for the STC monitor – they’ll tell you how to make a claim and what it covers.

Oakhill: 01908 866 021
Rainsbrook: 01788 528 806 

For advice or support, a child can speak to a member of staff, for example:

  • their Custody Support Plan (CuSP) officer, who is the main point of contact for the child
  • a chaplain, social worker or teacher
  • a doctor, nurse or other health worker

Chaplains provide support to everyone, whatever their faith. A child can ask to speak to a chaplain of their own faith if they want.

Support from the youth justice service

Someone from the local youth justice service will stay in contact with the child while they’re in custody. The child can get in touch with them whenever they need.

Friends and family

A child will be able to contact their family regularly and can arrange for them to visit.

Advocacy services

Children can also speak to someone from an advocacy service.

Children in custody have access to various forms of support, including speaking to a member of staff such as their Custody Support Plan (CuSP) officer, chaplain, social worker, teacher, doctor, nurse, or other health worker.

Chaplains provide support to all individuals, regardless of their faith, and a child can request to speak to a chaplain of their specific faith if desired.

The local youth justice service will maintain contact with the child throughout their time in custody, and the child can reach out to them for support at any time.

Children also have the ability to contact their friends and family regularly and arrange visits with them. Additionally, children can speak with someone from an advocacy service for additional support.

Advocacy services are available to children in custody through children’s charities and provide confidential support. They can assist children if they feel they cannot speak for themselves, do not understand something, or cannot make themselves understood.

To get in touch, advocacy service representatives regularly visit secure centres for children to meet them, and children can also contact them via telephone. For example, Barnardo’s can be reached at 0808 168 2694 for children in young offender institutions or secure training centres. For children in secure children’s homes, they need to ask a staff member for the appropriate contact number. Additionally, children and their families can reach out to other organisations for help.

The Howard League might be able to offer legal advice and help to children under 18 in custody.

The Howard League
Telephone: 0808 801 0308
Monday to Friday, 9 am to 5 pm
Thursday, 9 am to 7 pm

The Prison Reform Trust offers advice and support to children and their families, but cannot give legal advice.

The Prison Reform Trust
Telephone: 0808 802 0060
Monday, 3.30 pm to 7.30 pm
Tuesday and Thursday, 3.30 pm to 5.30 pm

Conviction offers advice and support to family members of children and young people held in the secure estate.

Telephone: 0161 552 1954
Monday to Friday, 10:00 am to 1:00 pm and 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm.

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