From curfew planning to fashion fails, Law PhD student and our second ‘tagging’ volunteer Fern Gillon reflects on what wearing a tag really involves – and why she believes MRCs are still a work in progress.
First things first: No, it’s not a ‘fitbit’. Yes, you can wear it in bath/shower. And NO, it does not give you an electric shock if you break curfew.
When I first heard:
I was very excited, probably more than I should have been, but the researcher in me couldn’t resist the opportunity. I was undoubtedly more excited than most people who are actually given a MRC as a condition by a Children’s Hearing or a Sheriff. I am a member of the Children’s Hearing System and that’s why I was chosen to take part, so when I calmed down I tried to consider the reality of being given a MRC. I have a personal and professional understanding of the impact of the alternative: custody or secure care. My initial thought is that a MRC provides an opportunity to deal with the needs of children in the context of their real lives and doesn’t leave a person shaped hole in the lives of others. In that moment I realised (if I didn’t know already) the importance of MRCs as a viable alternative for secure care and that any learning I could provide would be worthwhile in its effective use with children.
A lady from the private security firm which monitors the equipment came to my house to fit the tag and associated kit, a large black box with a telephone.
I offer her a cup of tea. She’s fine, thanks. She asks me to fill my bath to ankle height… to ensure the tag is waterproof it is submerged, along with my foot. She asks me to walk around each room of my house, as close to the perimeter as possible so the equipment can register the boundaries. She follows me. She gets me to lie in my bed. All the while she’s there, in my house, my personal and private space.
What I’m trying to get at is…it’s weird. It’s awkward, having a stranger in your house, following you around each room. Even getting up close and personal with your feet is embarrassing!
My first outing with the tag on:
I was unbelievably self-conscious, verging on paranoid. I felt like everyone I passed spotted my ankle accessory, I felt them looking and judging. In all honesty I don’t think many people noticed as I went about my day to day: on public transport, walking to the office, around the office, at the supermarket and so on. And as the week progressed I did feel myself become less concerned about the tag, almost forgetting I even had it.
Although my curfew doesn’t start until 7pm, I found myself planning my journey home, back up plans and worst case scenarios from the early afternoon. I clock watch for the rest of the day. I guess this consequential thinking, forward planning (or lack of) is what contributes in part to a young person finding themselves in the position of being considered for a MRC. Maybe this is one of the lessons a curfew stands to teach.
Practicalities of wearing the ‘tag’:
The tag is physically uncomfortable. I wouldn’t say sore but you certainly know it’s on. It gets caught when you go to put your feet on the couch and it’s awkward when you are trying to sleep.
I tried to use my clothing choices to hide the tag but for us girls it is very hard. My skinny jeans were too skinny to go over the box which is attached to the bracelet part; tights look ridiculous over it and boots are a no go. So off I go with my footless leggings and trainers. It sounds silly but I couldn’t get my socks under it so had to buy ankle socks. For young people, who may have limited clothing options and resources to buy ‘tag friendly’ clothing, this could be a real issue.
Some people commented that it looked like a ‘fitbit’, perhaps from a few decades ago. The technology is bulky and old fashioned, particularly in comparison to newer technologies. It makes me wonder to what extent is the tag a device to monitor and restrict movement and to what extent is it a tool for stigmatisation and the very narrow sense of punishment.
The ‘tag’ and others:
I’m unsure how many people actually noticed the tag. After teaching a class of first year social work students I asked them if they had noticed anything different about me to previous weeks. No-one mentioned the tag. When I disclosed some said they had noticed but wouldn’t have wanted to say anything about it to me. When I asked them how they felt about being taught by someone wearing a tag, they were clear that it didn’t change the fact that I was qualified to be teaching them and didn’t discount what I had to say (however one student did ask if the University was aware!).
I was home-alone the week of the curfew as my ‘better-half’ was working away. It made it a lonely week and in the longer term I can see how it could be potentially isolating. 7pm is really not that late.
I can also understand that in the longer term the MRC might be quite an undertaking for the family and those close to the child. You do really need a high degree of support to keep to the curfew and I can imagine it could be quite stressful for those closest to a child.
The tag and the CHS: Are we there yet?
I don’t think so. Although I’ve not been a panel member very long I have had cases which considered both Secure Care and MRC’s. I agree with the recent CYCJ report by Simpson and Dyer that both Social Workers and Panel members need to be clear about the potential benefits of MRCs and confident in their creative application. Currently I feel MRCs are viewed as merely a tick box before Secure Care, legally requiring consideration but not seen as a potentially beneficial intervention. Nothing about the experience has indicated that the tag is an inappropriate consideration for children involved in risk taking and offending behaviour. It’s no soft option, that’s for sure and therefore shouldn’t be considered lightly, but for some children (as the case studies in the report indicate) it could be appropriate.
Fern and her fellow volunteers were tagged to increase awareness and understanding of Movement Restriction Conditions (MRCc), and to highlight any capacity for improvement. More reflections will be shared in due course. Read CYCJ’s paper on MRCs and Youth Justice in Scotland.