As we celebrated the final stage of the Responding to Offending in Residential Childcare -‘Next Steps’ project, Debbie Nolan reflects back on what we’ve learnt and where we want go next with this important work.
For the past two years, CYCJ and Scottish Throughcare and Aftercare Forum (Staf) have partnered on the Responding to Offending in Residential Childcare-Next Steps project. Building upon CYCJ’s 2016 research, “Between a Rock and a Hard Place”: Responses to Offending in Residential Childcare, the project set out to inform, influence and support improvements to local and national practice in responding to offending in residential care. On April 24, 2019, we held an evening seminar to share learning from the project and celebrate the Special Commendation received at the Howard League Community Awards 2018. We were joined by partners to the different stages of the project and over 50 attendees including residential childcare workers, social workers, police, academics and civil servants.
Jim Shields (Senior Social Worker, Renfrewshire Council) opened the event, setting the scene of why we need to reduce the unnecessary criminalisation of looked after children and highlighting the experiences of young people, drawing upon a care experienced young person’s views as captured in her “Just a Wean in Care” blog. This highlighted why all our responses matter and the detrimental impact on young people of unnecessary police contact, as well as that this was both a matter of corporate parenting and children’s rights.
The aims of the Next Steps project have been achieved through three interrelated activities and during the event we heard from partners who had been involved at each stage of the project. The first phase of the project involved the development and implementation of a programme for local improvement to provide an understanding of, and influence, staff practice in responding to offending behaviour, working with over 100 staff in four children’s houses in Scotland. The learning and achievements from this phase of the project are summarised in our progress report, and at the event, we heard from John Ryan (Assistant Director, Aberlour), who had participated in the project. John highlighted activities that have subsequently been undertaken by Aberlour, which include reflecting on what trauma informed practice really means and how this can be embedded in the organisational culture; rethinking the use of restraint; profiling practice to identify what good and standard practice should look like and what practice they would not want to see; and enhancing staff support through supervision and clinical psychology consultation. The positive impacts for staff and children are already being acknowledged and praised.
The project had always recognised the impossibility of separating local practice and national context, so during the last year of the project, particular attention has been paid to providing support to national organisations to consider and reflect on their role in supporting more appropriate responses to looked after children and to offending behaviour and as necessary change practice. This has involved working with over 30 national partners, individually and collectively (for example, through our previous roundtable event), including the Care Inspectorate, SCRA, Scottish Prison Service and Police Scotland. Sergeant Sarah Marshall (Children and Young People Business Area, Police Scotland) updated on a planned pilot project to encourage a joined-up response to incidents to reduce the likelihood of criminalisation, offending or reoffending. The project will include the provision of multi-agency training to reach a shared understanding of trauma, attachment and childhood adversity and the respective responsibilities of organisations, alongside amending the Scottish Crime Recording Standards policy to mirror existing practices within education and prison environments which allows minor incidents to be resolved internally rather than being dealt with as a crime. We look forward to being involved further in this work.
Throughout the project, we have sought to share the learning gained and highlight the importance of relationships, a joined-up approach, multi-agency principles underpinning practice, supporting the workforce, and data to promote good quality, robust, consistent, considered and confident decision making, with the aim of ensuring police contact is avoided unless absolutely necessary. This has involved a range of methods including the development of podcasts and webinars; providing inputs to national events, local multi-disciplinary events, tailored roadshows, and lectures; and using the research to support legislation and policy change, directly reaching over 650 care experienced young people and practitioners from a range of services.
Care Visions are one such service for whom we facilitated roadshows with care experienced young people, residential workers and foster carers where various themes were identified. Subsequently, a range of activities have been undertaken to effect practice change and to support workers to promote positive outcomes of the children in their care, including increasing the level of duty management support available; reviewing the policy guidance available to staff in respect of missing persons and police involvement; improving relationships with Police Scotland and seeking to establish single points of contact at a local level; and exploring current data and recording processes.
So what’s next?
Although the Next Steps project is complete, CYCJ and Staf remain committed to supporting practice change in this area. Staf are currently working on the Mapping Relationships Project and supporting workforce development through reflective practice, trauma informed practice, and the fulfilment of corporate parenting duties. CYCJ will continue to offer support to any agency who would like this via our practice development work and have inputs planned to the Independent Care Review and the Scottish Institute of Residential Child Care Conference in June. CYCJ and Staf will also launch a tool for corporate parents and will continue to work together on the Youth Justice Voices Project.
We would like to thank all our partners across the project for their involvement, hard work and dedication to improving outcomes for our looked after children. As John Ryan highlighted, at the start of his career we still had large scale children’s houses which would be unthinkable now-how long is it before we are similarly reflecting on the unnecessary criminalisation of looked after children?
About our blogger
Debbie Nolan is Secure Care Practice Development Advisor for CYCJ. Read more.