The routine use of full searches will stop across the secure estate, there will be a review of the criteria used to separate young people in custody to manage problems that arise, complaints will be handled more fairly and effectively and work will be undertaken with the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) and the Samaritans to improve the young people’s access to helpline services.
This action plan comes as a direct result of the partnership between the Office of the Children’s Commissioner (OCC) and the Youth Justice Board (YJB) listening to the powerful insights of young people about full searches, separation, complaints procedures and help lines in the secure estate. The action plan builds on operational reforms planned by the YJB.
In the new research and action plan launched today, the YJB has made a series of commitments to improve the safeguarding practice of their service providers.
The YJB and OCC commissioned the charity User Voice to consult with young people in the secure estate. User Voice is led by ex-offenders who work with the most marginalised people in and around the criminal justice system. For this research, they gathered the views of young people in young offender institutions (YOIs), secure training centres (STCs), secure children’s homes and those under the supervision of youth offending services in England.
The safeguarding concerns raised by the young people will now be addressed by the YJB in a series of commitments including:
- working with NOMS and consulting with young people to redesign the information available to them about the complaints system and delivering training and guidance to improve the quality of staff responses to complaints
- reaffirming the commitment to only undertake full searches on a risk-led, rather than routine basis
- providing gowns for the young people in STCs during any necessary full searches
- working towards phasing out in YOIs the use of separation as a punishment or merely for the use of control.
The majority of the 89 young people who participated in this research recognised that some of these practices were necessary to maintain their safety and that of others.
However, they expressed strong feelings about the way some procedures were carried out because of the distress that they caused.
Full searches were described as undignified and led to feelings of anger, humiliation and anxiety.
87 per cent of young people reported that they were aware of available support services. The helplines provided by Barnardo’s were praised because of the emphasis on support and personal contact. However, only 13 per cent of the young people had actually used a helpline due to a general sense of mistrust about them, therefore the take up remained low.
The majority of the young people interviewed knew how to use the complaints system (91%) but they rarely did so - under a third (31%) reported making a complaint. Many said they had little or no faith that the system would be effective. The participants from the local authority secure children’s home did express satisfaction with the model used as their complaints are dealt with rapidly by senior staff on a personal, face-to-face basis.
Nearly half of the young people (44%) had experience of being removed or separated from other young people. This was mainly to provide staff with the space to address problem behaviours. While the majority of young people could articulate benefits of being separated, some of the young people reported feeling cut off and estranged during that time, perceiving themselves to be in the hands of unfeeling staff and away from normally supportive relationships.
The OCC looks forward to the full implementation of the YJB action plan, which will result in practices in the secure estate being aligned to how children should be treated under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).
Maggie Atkinson, the children’s commissioner for England, said:
“The views gathered through this project demonstrate the importance of listening to and involving children in matters affecting their lives. In doing so, we can ensure that we treat those in custody in a dignified and humane way that is focused on their rehabilitation.
“These principles are at the heart of the UNCRC and we welcome the YJB’s commitment to act on the concerns raised by the young people who took part in this research. Meaningful engagement of young people across the youth justice system can result in positive changes to attitudes and behaviours and support intervention measures that aim to reduce offending.
“We will work with the YJB to encourage them to incorporate the UNCRC into all youth justice polices and practices. During the next year, we will continue to visit and speak to young people in the secure estate to ensure the commitments laid out in this report are realised.”
John Drew, chief executive of the YJB said:
"Yet again I'm impressed by the intelligent and sensible contribution children make when they are consulted on matters that affect them. We sought their views on a range of improvements we planned to make, and they have helped us shape those changes for the better.
“As a result we have made eight commitments to improving the safeguarding of children in the secure estate.
“Listening to children and young people contributes to our aim of helping them to become responsible, independent adults."
Mark Johnson, founder of User Voice, said:
“I am extremely pleased that the concerns of the young people have been taken seriously by the Youth Justice Board. The powerful and thought-provoking views in this report are a reminder of the important role we all have in these young people’s lives, and the role that ex-offenders can play in gaining access to this extremely hard to reach group. Children and young people in the criminal justice system should receive the best support possible if we want them to turn around their lives to be positive and constructive citizens.”
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