Young Criminals Are Running Riot through Lack of Social Workers

Article excerpt

Byline: GRAHAM GRANT

TEENAGE tearaways across Scotland are being allowed to run riot because of a record shortage of social workers.

Juvenile criminals, many of them with records of joyriding, assault and theft, are supposed to be closely monitored by social work departments under a supervision order after being dealt with by children's panels.

But social work chiefs warned yesterday that the lack of trained staff meant many delinquents were being left to their own devices.

The news sparked fears that the failure to enforce orders made under the children's hearing system will lead to a nationwide rise in youth crime.

It also threatens to derail First Minister Jack McConnell's highprofile war on young offenders.

Recent official figures from the Audit Scotland watchdog show that councils cannot even manage one visit a month to young offenders in half of all cases.

In one in seven cases there was even less contact - leaving the youngsters to do as they pleased.

It is believed that Scottish social workers are failing to watch over up to 500 youngsters supposed to be under their care.

Among them are the tearaways, truants and petty offenders Mr McConnell hopes to target.

It is estimated that one in ten social work posts is empty, up by 93 per cent over the past four years.

The caution has been made by the public services union Unison in response to the Scottish parliament's Youth Justice Inquiry.

John Stevenson, Edinburgh branch secretary for Unison, said: 'If no social worker is allocated following a supervision order that means not a lot happens. They are unlikely even to see a social worker.

'The Scottish Executive recommendations require they are visited within 14 days of a hearing to set up a work plan for what will happen with the supervision.

'In practice, in Edinburgh, that plan is made before the children's hearing, and there is no one to implement it after the order is made. …