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Children's secure homes report urges a rethink on social care

Most young people in secure children’s homes believe the institutions make them feel safe and keep them out of trouble

Mary O’Hara
The Guardian

Most young people in secure children’s homes believe the institutions make them feel safe and keep them out of trouble, with many open to the idea of more CCTV cameras to monitor behaviour, according to a new study of secure care across England.

The study, carried out for the regulator Ofsted, canvassed the views of young people in half of England's 18 secure units and found that despite the loss of freedom and privacy, and the lack of space, most felt protected by the system.

Some said they felt safer in secure units than if they were outside where people might try to harm them, while many feared leaving and losing this security and support. Young people also felt more cameras would help if it meant they could prove their innocence if wrongly accused of bad behaviour.

Ofsted, which as well as regulating standards in education also has responsibility for registered childcare and children's social care, published four reports today following interviews with young people across the care system. Each report looked at a separate aspect of residential care: secure units, children's homes, special schools and residential further education. According to the regulator, young people across all four settings highlighted the positive impact made by good staff. In particular they stressed the importance of staff who were instrumental in preparing them for life outside care.

But young people in secure settings were concerned that children placed in homes by councils are housed with those referred from the criminal justice system via the Youth Justice Board (YJB). Many argued that it would be better to keep the two groups separate.

Another issue raised was the use of physical restraint. While most homes complied with national minimum standards on the use of restraint, according to Ofsted, there was a small number of cases where restraint was being "inappropriately" used, such as for punishment.

Roger Morgan, children's rights director for England and the person responsible for overseeing the reports, said that more needed to be done to help young people make the transition from care settings to wider society, adding that many young people said the network of support from staff while they are in care "vanishes" when they leave. "This highlights the need for greater support for those leaving secure units to help them rebuild their lives," he said.

The reports have been welcomed by children's rights groups as evidence of a willingness to consult young people, but some expressed concerns about how problems within the system are being addressed. Mike Lindsay of the Children's Rights Alliance for England (CRAE) said the research reaffirmed that the government needs to urgently rethink what secure homes are used for. Echoing some of the suggestions made by young people in the report, Lindsay said the blurring of their purpose as welfare facilities with providing beds for young people referred by the YJB could mean that some youngsters in need of temporary respite or safety might not be able to access it. "First and foremost, secure homes are a welfare facility. These reports highlight the government's failure to develop a clear national strategy for secure accommodation," he said.

April 2010