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The Earl of Listowel: Hear, hear.

7.57 pm

Baroness Stern: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, for arranging this debate, for her dedication in visiting the secure training centres and finding out what they are really like and, most of all, for sharing with this House her long expertise in childcare, her deep understanding of the needs of children and her clear vision from that perspective of why what has been set up and delivered through the secure training centres is so very wrong.

Thanks to the heroic and persistent work of Sally Keeble MP and the very searching work done by the inquiry team led by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, we now know enough to be sure that something is deeply wrong. The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, says in his introduction that the way children are treated in penal custody would in other circumstances,

In its visits to STCs the inquiry found in one or other of them a lack of privacy in that staff could see the children having their showers. It found that the method of restraint used in STCs can involve the use of pain, particularly to the nose, and that restraint was used 3,289 times in 2003 for fewer than 200 children at any one time. Figures for one STC also showed that, within an 18-month period, single separation—which is a euphemism for solitary confinement—was used 285 times. STCs now use handcuffs, and Sally Keeble MP found that handcuffs were used 11 times in one month in one STC last year.

This is a grim and dismal picture. This treatment is being meted out to children as young as 12—not tough, well-balanced, secure and happy children; of course not. Seventy-seven per cent of them, or nearly eight out of 10, were designated by the Youth Justice Board in September 2005 as "vulnerable". It may be that some observers, people on the outside who are concerned with childcare and crime prevention, are confused. They may think, "How can this be going on when these children are placed by the Youth Justice Board, which is a very respectable body run by people well known for their knowledge in the field?". Perhaps people will think that it is not as bad as it sounds—perhaps they will think that it is alright. So it is important to say clearly that it is not alright—it is absolutely not alright.

A Youth Justice Board document called Strategy for the Secure Estate for Children and Young People refers, on page 5, under the heading "Achievements", to


 
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That is set out as an achievement. When we read that, we have to ask what can be guiding the board in making its decisions about the care of the vulnerable children entrusted to it. That addition of 144 places was hailed as an achievement not in a vacuum but after there had been deaths, after the information that restraints had been used in the STCs 11,593 times since 1999 and, presumably, with a knowledge of the strip searching and the use of handcuffs, as well as the knowledge of the criticisms by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Council of Europe human rights commissioner. Since then, more contracts have been signed for units to accommodate young girls, some of them with babies. A United States judge recently talked about the moral blindness creeping into the criminal justice system. Is it, we must ask, infecting the Youth Justice Board? I make it clear that that is a criticism not of the multinational security companies that provide these places but of those who contract with them.

Finally, we must ask why we here in Parliament have not been more determined in our efforts to monitor what is going on and bring abuses to light. Here we face a difficulty, because information is very hard to come by. Much of the information that we have heard tonight comes not from official reports nor from inspection reports by the Commission for Social Care Inspection, but from parliamentary Questions and a Howard League inquiry. We do not have the sort of information that we have about prisons, which comes to us from reports of the Chief Inspector of Prisons. The Youth Justice Board glossy documents are not informative.

On 26 January, the Joint Committee on Human Rights, of which I am a member, wrote to the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, following up an earlier letter that said:

In our subsequent letter, we said:

We went on to ask if the Home Office could report to Parliament with regularly updated information, perhaps every three months.

I hope that the Minister will be able to tell the House when the Home Office is likely to reply to that suggestion and if the reply is likely to be positive, as I very much hope it will be.

8.04 pm

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, for securing this debate and for her persistent and passionate advocacy of children in secure training centres. I welcome the
 
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fact that the Minister responding has social work training and will understand the concerns expressed in the House that children are being placed in such inappropriate settings and that the social care model is the correct one.

I wish to address the issue of training, support and supervision for staff in secure training centres, making a comparison with provision in children's homes. We know that there is, sadly, an over-representation of children in local authority care in the criminal justice system. Many of the troubled and troubling children in children's homes are not that different from those in secure training centres. Good practice in children's homes should be very similar to good practice in secure training centres. The Social Exclusion Unit identified 60 per cent of children coming into care as having had experience of abuse or neglect and a further 10 per cent of a family breakdown. The Office for National Statistics found that in children's homes, which tend to take the most vulnerable and damaged young people, 68 per cent had mental disorders and 56 per cent had conduct disorders, which typically would include theft, fire-setting and other problems. There is a correspondence between the groups—although I am not saying that most children in children's homes are going to end up in the criminal justice system, or will misbehave in that way or have those troubles.

In 1998, 70 to 80 per cent of staff in children's homes had no relevant qualification to work with these vulnerable children, and the most vulnerable children were being cared for by the least qualified staff. I am very glad that the Government recognised that and set a target that 80 per cent of such staff should have, by September last year, a national vocational qualification level 3 in childcare. That is a very basic start but it is a good start in the right direction.

Why is training for staff so important? Of course it is necessary to understand control and restraint and to use it appropriately, and there are other important areas, but to my mind the crucial element is an understanding of child development. What flows from that is an understanding on the part of staff why one-to-one supervision with their manager is crucial to their successful functioning and why consultancy, which is normally to the staff group by a psychologist, psychiatrist or a child psychotherapist on an ongoing regular basis, is necessary and to be sought for. Training is vital for the confidence of staff to become people who learn throughout their time in residential settings and secure training centres to think about and to reflect on their practice, and to become sensitive and supportive individuals working in these difficult environments. It is the social care model.

An article from the Scottish Journal of Residential Child Care by Andrew Kendrick, called "'A Different Way to Look at Things': The Development of Consultancy in a Residential Service for Children and Young People", from February-March 2005 states:

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now the noble Lord, Lord Warner, in his report on staff in children's homes, called Choosing with Care

so similar to those in secure training centres,

The management of stress is very important to this area too.

Noble Lords have referred to the high vacancy rates throughout the secure training centre provisions. In children's homes last year vacancy rates were generally more than 11 per cent, and about 22 per cent in London, even higher than among child and family social workers, where there is the next highest level of vacancy in the social care arena. Many children's homes still do not have the support described as necessary by the noble Lord, Lord Warner, as I know very well.

I conclude by asking the Minister if he would be good enough, when the contracts for these centres are next negotiated and the parameters set for the training, supervision and support for staff, to inform Peers taking part in the debate tonight so we can help shape the framework for the training and support of staff in these settings. I look forward to the Minister's response.

8.11 pm


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