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Care system teenagers arriving at prison and not receiving support, watchdog warns


eenage inmates arrive at a London prison with long histories of involvement with social services in a “serious indictment of the effectiveness of the care system”, a watchdog warned on Thursday.

The independent monitoring board for Feltham, which comprises a young offender institution and a young adult prison, says a large proportion of the 15- to 18-year-olds there were either on full care orders or classed as children in need when they entered the prison.

It says this is causing dismay among staff and warns that the teenagers — who include some sent to jail for rape and murder and some of the most troubled and vulnerable in the capital — are also not receiving statutory visits from local authority social workers that should be provided.

The findings, which the watchdog says need to be addressed by ministers, come in an annual report which also highlights an “alarming” rise in violence including attacks using broken toilet seats and sharpened toothbrushes.

It praises staff for “possibly saving a life” by intervening in one assault in which five inmates attacked another young prisoner. Other violence included an attack on a teacher and another teacher being taken hostage.

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The board also warns that gang culture is being “tacitly encouraged” inside the prison by keeping teenagers in small “bubbles” identified by colour.

It says this practice began during the pandemic but has continued since and “can be threatening to others.”

“Gang culture outside the prison should not be mirrored inside Feltham by the practice of housing prisoners with those whom they most want to associate with,” the board says.

Some of the most concerning findings are about the number of children entering Feltham from the care system, where any vulnerabilities likely to trigger offending should have been receiving specialist attention.

“Dismay was expressed that young people with long histories of social services involvement were arriving in Feltham on charges or convictions for rape and murder,” the report states.

“Many young people have moved directly from local authority care with either full care orders or child In need status. This is a serious indictment of the effectiveness of the care system which the Government needs to address.”

The report adds that “almost 60 per cent” of the 15- to 18-year-olds held in Feltham had either been on “full care orders” or classed as “children in need” before they came into custody.