From the foreword;
At a meeting in early 2016 to discuss the lives of some of the most vulnerable children, we learnt that a very small number of young girls under the age of 18 are held in secure residential units, serving time for criminal acts they have committed. At the time of publishing this report, 30 girls under the age of 18 are in custody – the equivalent of a full classroom at a secondary school.
We wanted to find out more. What had gone wrong with their lives that had led to them losing their liberty? Could more have been done for them before they ended up in a secure unit? What more can be done to prevent others from ending up in the same place in future?
It was important that we heard from the girls themselves. We have called this report ‘Voices from the Inside’ because it is precisely that: it tells the stories of some of the young girls who have spent time in one secure unit. It gives a voice to children who are not usually given the opportunity to tell their story and shines a light on the circumstances that led to them being locked up.
It is striking how similar the girls’ stories are. Most were born into complex and chaotic families. Many suffered significant bereavements at a young age. Almost all were under the supervision of social services. They were often brought up outside the family home or were in care. Drink, drugs and underage sex were a common part of their lives, and most had dropped out of mainstream school. Often they were not given the support needed to help them negotiate the difficult, emotional situations that they found themselves in or to make positive choices for themselves.
Nobody will be surprised to hear that most of these children had the kind of childhoods none of us would wish for our own kids. They weren't adequately protected or kept safe from harm by their parents. Indeed, from hearing their stories, it seems clear that many of their parents hadn't been kept safe as children either. One of the girls we interviewed was due to have her own child while in the secure unit, and despite everyone’s best intentions, the odds are that this cycle of generational neglect will not be broken.
One of the observations we didn’t expect to take away with us was how positively the young women felt about being in the secure unit. It was obvious that compared to the chaos in their normal lives they were relieved to be in a place where their basic needs were met and where there was structure and support, where they could not drink, smoke, have access to drugs, and where they were away from what seemed to be very stressful personal relationships with their families and friendship groups. It was sad to realise that for some of the girls, the unit was the only time in their whole life that they had felt secure and cared for and not scared.
It seemed that most of the girls had received very little therapeutic support before their time in the secure unit, despite many of them having to manage the kind of traumas in their lives that would potentially derail any child, even one from the most loving and supportive environment. Many of the girls had suffered serious and sometimes multiple bereavements, for example, losing a mother and two grandparents in quick succession. The girls themselves often showed or said that they needed more help to recover from these traumas.
The girls we met have committed crimes and it is right they are being punished. Many of them were undoubtedly bright children who, had they not had to face some of the most horrendous things any child could have to deal with, you would expect to succeed in school. Whilst acknowledging they have committed criminal behaviour, it is important to understand how they have ended up in secure units.
We want to thank the girls for speaking to us. We wish them the best on their release and hope that they can begin to turn around their lives for the better.
Anne Longfield OBE and Dame Louise Casey
Reference: CCO. (2018). Voices from the Inside: The experiences of girls in Secure Training Centres. London: CCOE
At any given time, the number of young women under the age of 18 held in Secure Training Centres in this country is very small. The numbers are fluid from month to month but over the last few years there have usually been around 20 to 30 girls in the units at any one time. Girls are no longer placed in custody in Young Offender Institutes but in Secure Training Centres, along with some boys up age 17. According to MoJ figures, 30% of girls in prison are convicted of offences classified as violence against the person, with around 20% for drug offences, similar for theft and slightly less for robbery. A very small number of girls are held for possession of weapons, arson or sexual offences.
The post of Children’s Children's Commissioner for England was created following a recommendation made by Lord Laming in the Victoria Climbie Inquiry. The role was initially established under the Children Act 2004 which gave the Commissioner responsibility for promoting awareness of the views and interests of children. The Commissioner’s statutory remit includes understanding what children and young people think about things that affect them and encouraging decision makers to always take their best interests into account. Her unique data gathering powers and powers of entry to talk with children and gain evidence, enable her to help bring about long-term change and improvements for children, particularly the most vulnerable.
The Children and Families Act 2014 further strengthened the remit, powers and independence of the Commissioner, and gave her special responsibility for the rights of children who are in or leaving care, living away from home or receiving social care services. She also speaks for wider groups of children on non-devolved issues including immigration (for the whole of the UK) and youth justice (for England and Wales).
As well as a team of staff, the Commissioner is supported by an advisory group, an audit and risk committee and children’s groups, stakeholders and specialists.
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