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Special Educational Needs Provision

Volume 560: debated on Tuesday 19 March 2013

2. What progress he has made on improving special educational needs provision within the youth custodial estate. (148574)

The House will know of my hon. Friend’s interest and expertise in the subject, and he will know that a significant proportion of young offenders have some level of special educational needs, which might only be identified once they enter custody. Young people have an educational assessment on entry to custody, and anyone who shows signs of a learning difficulty or disability will be screened so that they can be directed for further assessment and can receive the provision they need. Through our consultation paper “Transforming Youth Custody,” we seek to improve further what we do in that area.

As my hon. Friend knows, the Children and Families Bill is currently making its way through the House, but it has no provision relating to young people in custody. Will he work closely with the Department for Education to ensure that there will be a co-ordinated approach to help young people in custody with SEN?

Yes, we certainly will do that; indeed we are doing it. My hon. Friend will be conscious of the fact that there are specific arrangements, whether educational or otherwise, that cannot be taken with the young person into a custodial environment, but that does not mean that we do not need to work hard to make sure that the transition into, and out of, a custodial setting is managed appropriately for young people.

Does the Minister agree that, given the incidence of special educational needs in our custodial system and the incidence of acquired brain injury there, a lot of young people who are in custody should not be there? Does he agree that there ought to be earlier intervention at an earlier screening, long before they get into custody?

I agree substantially with what the hon. Gentleman has said, and we need to work harder, together with our colleagues in the Department of Health and elsewhere, to ensure that such young people are diverted away from the criminal justice system earlier. However, it is also right to say that we have a responsibility to ensure that provision is appropriate for those young people who do need to be in custody, and that a large proportion of those, as he says, have special educational needs and other issues.