CHAPTER 1: BACKGROUND AND CONTEXT
1.1.1 This is the report of a three-year study commissioned by the Scottish Executive to develop understanding of the use and effectiveness of secure accommodation in Scotland. It was carried out by researchers from the universities of Stirling, Strathclyde and Glasgow. The use and development of secure accommodation was a priority for the Scottish Executive Education Department when this research was commissioned in 2002 and, as reflected in significant developments in the intervening period, remains a key policy issue as the research is concluded in 2005.
1.1.2 This introductory chapter begins by summarising key policy and service developments in relation to secure accommodation within the Scottish context, then goes on to briefly highlight some relevant points from the wider literature and developments in the U.K. Consideration is then given to the research design, with particular focus on how this was adapted as the research progressed to accommodate growing understanding of the nature and use of secure accommodation and 'alternatives' in Scotland.
2. THE SCOTTISH CONTEXT
1.2.1. In recent years between 200 and 250 young people have been admitted to secure care in Scotland each year, with about 90 in placement at any one time. A majority are boys but girls typically account for more than a quarter, most being placed for welfare reasons, rather than offending ( SWSI 2000, 2002). Approximately two thirds of young people in secure accommodation are placed there on the authority of a children's hearing. The remaining third of the secure care population are subject to a court order, either serving a sentence for a serious crime or on remand.
1.2.2 The report A Secure Remedy ( SWSI 1996) was important in defining policy aims and setting the agenda for change in this field. It defined the optimum position as one in which a secure place would be available for all young people who required it, whilst no one would be admitted to a secure setting if they could be safely accommodated within an open setting. This recommendation prompted the growth of a range of community-based 'alternatives', including schemes offering enhanced or intensive community-based support and specialist foster care. By adding electronic tagging to an intensive support package, the Intensive Secure Monitoring System ( ISMS), introduced early in 2005, aims to provide a direct alternative for young people facing secure placement.
1.2.3 A Secure Remedy also focused on improving the service offered to young people in secure accommodation, ensuring a high standard of care and education and that services were in place to address the difficulties which had resulted in the admission. The report itself and two subsequent surveys ( SWSI 2000, 2002) confirmed that the secure population encompassed sub-groups with quite distinctive problems and needs. Girls, sexually aggressive young people, those with long-standing, chronic problems and young people whose difficulties emerge in their teens were recognised as having different requirements, even if they also had certain basic needs in common. Recent policy and service developments have focused on developing capacity to cater for this diverse population, both through increasing overall provision and enhancing the service within each individual unit.
1.2.4 Significant developments in overall provision were announced in March 2003, with the announcement of plans to create an additional 29 secure places. This raised the total from 96 to 125, whilst also allowing for greater geographical spread and dedicated provision for girls. In addition to the secure places, there are to be 30 further close support places and extra funds for intensive community support. The decision to augment the secure estate was taken because a range of key stakeholders such as children's hearings panel members, police and social work managers had identified a need for expansion.
1.2.5 A range of measures were introduced, with a view to improving the quality of provision within units. Besides the requirement to meet National Care Standards for all accommodated young people, the Secure Accommodation Forum was established to provide a setting in which best practice could be shared and developed. An increasing number of units introduced programmes to help young people address offending and other difficulties and the Scottish Institute for Residential Child Care was commissioned to develop a set of information and practice guides ( SIRCC, 2005).
1.2.6 Over the period of the study, developments across secure units have taken place in relation to the formalisation of assessment procedures and/or the further involvement of inter-disciplinary aspects to assessments. The issue of the transition of young people leaving secure accommodation is seen as a priority and some units have been developing outreach services or planning such developments. The provision of mental health services to young people in secure accommodation is also seen as a priority area and specialist projects have been developed or links with CAMHS and other services built on. The training agenda is being addressed in all the units with emphasis currently being placed on training of staff for registration with the SSSC. Dedicated training materials have also been commissioned from the Scottish Qualifications Authority.
1.2.7 Significant changes in the decision-making process have also been proposed. In the consultation document 'Getting it Right for Every Child' (Scottish Executive, 2005a) it is suggested that local authorities should be obliged to implement the decisions of a children's hearing, thus removing the discretion of social work managers to decide whether a secure requirement should be implemented.
1.2.8 Partly because of the nature and role of the children's hearing system, secure accommodation in Scotland is quite different from similar provision in other parts of the UK. One of the key differences is that it is located within residential child care provision and that a high proportion of young people are admitted primarily on welfare grounds. However policy and practice issues inevitably have resonance with those in other parts of the UK, whilst the literature which informs them is primarily based on English-based research.
3. KEY ISSUES FROM RELEVANT LITERATURE
1.3.1 Since there is space for only a brief review of the relevant literature, comment is confined to those issues which emerged as particularly important in this study.
1.3.2 It is widely accepted that a key challenge for secure accommodation is to cater effectively for a very diverse group of young people. For Harris and Timms, ambiguity is an essential characteristic of secure care. Taking a historical perspective, they argue that secure care is not a coherent service for troubled children, but a means of catering for a wide range of young people deemed to require containment and fitting readily within no other setting. Its indeterminate nature is captured in the subtitle of their book: 'Between hospital and prison or thereabouts' (Harris and Timms, 1993).
1.3.3 Harris and Timms' book was written over ten years ago, yet their point about secure care's ambiguous nature remained very relevant for this study. Secure care caters for two populations, those requiring care for their own safety and those who present a risk to others. Traditionally the first group is viewed as needing care or 'treatment', while the second requires control, reform or punishment. However with adolescents these distinctions become blurred partly because 'juvenile offending' is widely attributed to faulty parenting or socialisation, but also in light of evidence that both groups have similar characteristics and needs (Goldson 2000; SWSI 2000). A number of commentators point out that the inherent ambiguity in the secure care task cannot be attributed solely to the requirement that it should cater for different kinds of needs. Equally important is the fact that attitudes to troublesome teenagers and how they are constructed within policy is not constant, in that their vulnerability is emphasised at some points and their criminality at others (Goldson 2002a; Harris and Timms 1993; Muncie 2002).
1.3.4 In this research questions of ambiguity emerged as even more multi-layered than these commentators suggest. Young people could be constructed as 'children in need'; 'offenders' or 'children with rights' and somewhat differently within each of these categories. It also became evident that how young people were viewed reflected aspects of the ethos, service provision and organisational arrangements within different local authorities and units. As Harris and Timms claim, ambiguity about the role of secure accommodation was therefore inevitable. In this study it became evident that definitions of 'alternatives to secure accommodation' were equally diverse.
1.3.5 Whilst acknowledging the ambiguity of the task, secure care is evidently expected to provide care and control, while also effecting some behavioural change. Cognitive behavioural approaches are generally credited as the most effective way of changing criminal behaviour, though their appropriateness in work with young offenders has been questioned (Pitts 2002). Bullock and colleagues note that strongly cognitive-based interventions are less effective with young people who are very difficult and disturbed (Bullock et al., 1998), a consideration with obvious relevance for secure provision, since many of the young people there have serious and long- standing emotional difficulties ( e.g.SWSI 2000). The extent to which longstanding difficulties can or should be addressed within secure care is contested, but there is considerable evidence that many residents require a caring and supportive environment ( SWSI 2000; Walker et al. 2002). The different needs of boys and girls have been highlighted, with O'Neill reporting particularly poor experiences and short- term outcomes for girls placed on welfare grounds, since the service is geared to cater predominantly for male offenders (O'Neill 2001). A number of studies have highlighted that though the secure care task is talked about in terms of tackling problems, its first and predominant function is to contain (Goldson 2002b; Kelly 1992).
1.3.6 Questions about what secure accommodation could and should offer young people were at the heart of this study. Inevitably, given the diversity of population and ambiguity of role and expectations, no definitive answer to these questions can be reached. However this study provided an opportunity first to differentiate between different perspectives about how secure accommodation should help young people and then to examine the extent to which these corresponded with service provision, young people's characteristics and experience and how they fared after leaving the secure placement.
1.3.7 The importance of understanding the interaction between young people's own characteristics and behaviour and the actions of professionals and service providers is well established in the literature. Bullock et al.(1998) highlight that the routes by which troubled children reach secure care are a product of child-related factors and decisions and actions taken by professionals. These researchers differentiate between the life route, which refers to children and their families' actions, and process which encompasses actions taken throughout the child's life by professionals in health, social work and education or by courts and children's hearings. Harris and Timms (1993) observed that decisions about secure care placement itself were rarely based on theoretically sound professional assessment of young people's needs. Rather key participants in the decision-making process developed 'narratives' which defined young people in certain ways, thus justifying their favoured course of action.
1.3.8 Goldson (2000) identifies a number of influences which increase the likelihood of secure placement on welfare grounds. First there is a tendency to locate the problem in the individual young person, whereas deficiencies in the welfare system might be equally relevant. For example open residential units vary in their capacity to provide appropriate care, control and support for seriously troubled young people, yet their failures are seldom mentioned when young people become out of control. In addition he cites evidence that class, gender and ethnic origin influence the route young people take through child welfare services. Agency priorities, geographical location and ease of access to secure placements or alternatives also determine which children find themselves in locked accommodation.
1.3.9 These analyses suggest that in order to reach the optimum position identified in A Secure Remedy, attention is needed not only to practice in relation to individual young people, but in how that practice is shaped by agency ethos and patterns of resource provision. Whether certain kinds of risk to self or others can be managed in an open setting is a function of the young person's behaviour, how risky behaviours are viewed and the capacity of existing resources to manage them. In the original research plans the intention was to examine each as related but distinct issues. However in time it became evident that they were inextricably linked. This had implications for how the research questions could be most appropriately understood and addressed.
4. THE RESEARCH AIMS AND OBJECTIVES
1.4.1 The broad aims of this research, as outlined in the specification and proposal, were to provide :
1) a clearer understanding of the purpose and effectiveness of secure accommodation in meeting the needs of young people, their families and communities;
2) a framework to assist the decision-making process on the use of secure care by children's hearings and social work departments.
1.4.2 The study was expected to concentrate on admissions to secure accommodation through the hearings rather than the courts. A survey of young people placed in secure accommodation on remand was commissioned by the Justice Department and reported separately. The report is available online at www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2005/04/Rev-YPDSA
1.4.3 The specific objectives were as follows:
a) To identify the characteristics of children and young people who have experienced periods in secure care and describe the nature of this experience for them and their families;
b) To obtain evidence on the impacts of secure care on children/ young people and assess to what extent the outcomes observed match with those envisaged by the hearings in reaching decisions about the use of secure accommodation. Within this to identify and explore any differences in understanding which may influence decisions;
c) To identify which interventions/combinations of interventions within secure care promote the most effective outcomes for children and young people and assess to what extent the 'containment' aspect is crucial to the success of these;
d) To compare the impact of secure care upon the children/ young people and their families with the experiences of those with similar behavioural characteristics who receive alternative services (including non-secure residential settings and specialist fostering placements);
e) To provide guidance on the most appropriate uses of secure care (in relation to identified needs of children and young people) in order to inform the decision- making process at hearings;
f) To assess the cost effectiveness of secure care, including a comparison with the costs and benefits of a representative range of appropriate, alternative services.
Research Design and Methods
1.4.4 The research addressed each of the original aims and objectives, but it did so in ways which were different from those originally envisaged. The research reported here is based on data obtained in the following ways:
1. With respect to 53 young people admitted to secure accommodation between October 2002 and 2003, information was obtained on; biographical characteristics and background; reasons for their admission; services provided prior to, during and following the secure placement. The data were obtained from records and from interviews held with social workers, key workers and some young people. Updates on their progress were obtained from social workers at two points, approximately 12 and 24 months after admission;
2. Similar information was obtained on 23 young people considered for secure accommodation but sustained in an open setting for at least 6 months. The sources were records, one interview with a key worker or social worker and in some instances, an interview with the young person;
3. Information was gathered on costs of typical packages of care for key subgroups within both secure and alternative samples;
4. Interview took place with senior and first-line social work managers, panel chairs and reporters on decision-making in relation to secure accommodation and views about its function and effectiveness. These were semi-structured interviews which also incorporated the use of vignettes through which informants were asked to discuss case scenarios and the likely responses;
5. Two rounds of interviews were held with a senior manager in each secure unit;
6. Interviews with key 'other professionals' in secure units, including the head teacher, psychologists, Looked After Children ( LAC) nurse and children's rights officer. These focused on the service provided by themselves and colleagues in the same discipline;
7. A review was conducted of subsequent placements for all young people made subject to secure authorisation by a children's hearing between 1 st July and 31 st December 2003.
1.4.5 The secure sample was recruited in collaboration with key workers who passed on a letter prepared by the research team to each young person admitted to secure accommodation on the authority of a children's hearing. The key worker briefly explained what the research would entail, then, if the young person agreed to meet with the researcher, further details of the research were explained at that time. Each of the young people gave written consent at one of these meetings. Key workers or social workers were also asked to give parents a letter which provided some information about the research, let them know that their son or daughter was being invited to take part in it and asked them to let the social worker or key worker know if they objected to this. Two young people who agreed to take part in the study were not included because their parents raised objections.
1.4.6 A sample of 53 young people was recruited from a potential sample of 146, so the take up rate was low at 36%. Recruitment rates varied across units from 20% to 60%. Key workers sometimes said that young people who did not take part were generally suspicious of any intervention in their lives, especially when they were to be tracked over two years. Others were already taking part in other research and did not want to be involved in a second study. A higher proportion of girls compared with boys agreed to take part (41% of girls and 26% of boys). As a result girls are slightly over represented in the sample, accounting for 55% whereas they typically form less than half of young people admitted to the secure accommodation through the children's hearing route. This may mean that there is also some over representation of young people admitted on welfare rather than offence grounds. In terms of age and reasons for admission to secure accommodation, the sample is broadly representative of the overall population of young people admitted to secure accommodation on a children's hearing order.
Changes to the Research Design and Methods
1.4.7 During the first year of the research it became clear that two aspects of the research design did not correspond with how services were delivered in practice. Expectations that social workers and key workers would provide questionnaire-based data proved unrealistic, partly because of lack of time and partly because frequent changes of social worker meant a certain amount of detective work was involved in locating who was able to provide up to date information on young people's progress. As a result, information was obtained in telephone or face to face interviews. This was more time consuming, but on the positive side yielded a fuller understanding of the issues than would have been conveyed in a questionnaire.
1.4.8 The second discovery was that far fewer young people than had been anticipated were being made subject to secure authorisation or seriously considered for secure placement then sustained in an open or community-based alternative. Attempts to recruit this sample continued for 2 _ years and involved repeated contacts with residential schools and projects providing an 'alternative' to secure accommodation. Typically staff in these services' initial response was that many of the young people they cared for or worked with met our criteria. However on closer examination, very few young people had been close enough to secure placement to warrant being included in the sample. Instead most services offering an 'alternative to secure' catered for young people whose behaviour, if it continued, might result in secure authorisation being sought. In addition some supported young people during and after their secure placement, so may have reduced the time spent in secure accommodation or the likelihood of them returning.
1.4.9 Acknowledging a somewhat different role for 'alternative' services than was implied in the original research design had a number of important implications for the research. First it questioned the widely held perception that large numbers of young people were made subject to secure authorisation, but not placed in a secure setting. It was important that the research gained as accurate as possible an understanding of this issue, so a survey was carried out of placements of all young people made subject to secure authorisation between 1 st July and 31 st December 2003. In addition, recruitment of a sample of young people who met the study criteria continued, including only those who had been sustained outwith secure accommodation for at least six months. Twenty-five were recruited, with only three boys and three girls who met the criteria declining to take part.
1.4.10 A second implication of finding that few young people were sustained in an open setting for any length of time after consideration for secure placement was that a quasi-experimental comparison between young people placed in secure accommodation and those sustained in an open setting was not feasible. In addition it became evident that young people accessed a host of different services alongside or following admission to secure accommodation, so it would not be possible to isolate the effects of the secure placement. There was very little knowledge either of how individual young people came to be referred to and make use of certain services, or of how this mix of service provision impacted on their lives. This therefore became the primary interest of the research. This shift of focus was helpful because it allowed the research questions to be addressed in a way which did justice to the range of complex influences which shaped what services were offered and how young people responded.
1.4.11 The key changes to the proposed design and reasons for them are summarised below.
Comparison of the characteristics and experiences of 75 young people admitted to secure accommodation and 75 young people considered to meet the secure criteria, but sustained in an open setting. Young people were to be recruited shortly after being placed in or considered for secure accommodation and their progress tracked for 18-24 months.
53 young people placed in secure accommodation were recruited as soon as possible after admission and their progress tracked for 24-30 months.
23 young people who had been considered for secure accommodation, but sustained in an open setting for at least 6 months were recruited up to a year after they had been considered for secure accommodation.
Cost effectiveness of secure accommodation as compared with alternative options for young people with similar difficulties.
Approximate costs were calculated of a range of typical pathways through services.
Obtain data on young people's progress primarily through questionnaires completed by social workers and key workers.
Data was obtained through telephone and face to face interviews with social workers and key workers. Some interviews were also held with young people.
Qualitative data would be obtained on 25 young people from the secure sample, through interviews with key participants.
With the shift from questionnaire based to interview-based data, similar information was obtained on all young people within the secure sample.
Survey was undertaken of placements of all young people made subject to secure authorisation during a six month period
Interviews with young people
Fewer interviews were carried out with young people than planned because of the inclusion of the above survey and shift to a more time-consuming method of data collection from social workers.
1.4.12 The reasons for these changes in the research design might be viewed as important findings in themselves. Social workers being under pressure and frequently changing impacted on the service young people could be offered, whilst more realistic appreciation of the relationship between secure accommodation and 'alternatives' was important in understanding young people's routes through services. The findings are presented in two parts, with chapters two-four focusing on stakeholders' views and organisational issues and chapters five to nine charting the young people's progress. The implications of both elements and data on costs are brought together in two concluding chapters.