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Children and young people’s experiences of, and views on, issues relating to the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child


9 special protection measures


9.1 Children and young people facing special protection measures valued support that was delivered by trusted adults with whom they could develop positive relationships. In terms of youth justice interventions, support for punitive measures was generally low, while holistic approaches that took account of individual, social and economic factors influencing antisocial behaviour and offending were valued. Experiences of detention were varied, being significantly influenced by the location of the placement. The evidence highlights the importance of delivering interventions that are child-focused. Positive future outcomes depended heavily on quality education, support and care.

Children in situations of emergency

9.2 The Scottish Guardianship Service is run by the Scottish Refugee Council and Aberlour Child Care Trust and supports young people who are asylum seekers. The first evaluation[1] of its pilot found that young people had a very positive experience of being supported by Guardians within the service and that these adults were trusted with relationships valued by young people. The reliability of Guardians was highly praised, helping young people with their asylum claims as well as with access to health, education and welfare services. Wider fun and creative activities were particularly appreciated by young people. Young people were concerned about their future lives and wanted to be able to talk about these concerns.

Children in conflict with law

9.3 Support for punitive, enforcement led approaches amongst children and young people was low. Correspondingly, the most effective youth justice interventions were considered to be those that take account of the individual, social and economic contexts in which antisocial behaviour and crime take place. The most valued interventions were those that allowed respectful interactions with youth justice professionals to be developed.

9.4 While there is a growing body of work on the Children's Hearing system process, children and young people's views and experiences of treatments and interventions remain largely under-researched. For information on Home Supervision Requirements, see section 6.21.

Youth justice

9.5 There have been strategic developments in youth justice since 2008, which seek to maximise diversion from the criminal justice system. The Edinburgh Study of Youth Transitions and Crime[2] has been influential in promoting this policy approach. This longitudinal programme of research on pathways into and out of offending involved a cohort of around 4,300 young people and collected data prior to 2008.

9.6 Research emphasised the need for approaches to youth justice to recognise the complex interaction of individual, social and economic factors influencing young people's involvement in crime and antisocial behaviour. Research into youth 'gangs' and knife carrying, for example, highlighted the important role that gang membership had for young people in terms of belonging, status and identity [3]. Of the 95 young people interviewed, most were aware of the physical and social harm caused by knife carrying suggesting that educational programmes alone will be ineffectual. Fifty seven per cent of young people in the consultation for the SYP Manifesto supported the statement "the solutions for solving the problem of knife crime lie in working with young people to tackle the roots causes, not by imposing a mandatory jail sentence"[4].

9.7 Newman (2011)[5] conducted a local study into young people at risk of offending, with the aim of better understanding the factors influencing their behaviour. A total of 14 young people from Highland gave their stories, revealing a complex range of challenges, including substance abuse, chaotic family life, the normalisation of fighting, poor mental and physical health and marginalisation from education and leisure. A key theme related to the lack of planning in support provision and the lack of involvement young people had in decisions affecting them. Professionals did not listen to young people's needs, which added to, rather than alleviated, their problems.

9.8 Young people expressed low levels of support for enforcement-led interventions. Drawing on interviews with 20 young people from five local authority areas,[6]found that young people did not regard punitive tools such as Anti Social Behaviour Orders (ASBO) as an effective deterrent. Police were criticised for being overly reactive. Media reporting helped perpetuate negative public perceptions of young people. In workshops by the Children's Parliament[7], children stated that Ministers need to "make sure that children in Scotland are treated well and stop people stereotyping all children and young people as trouble".

9.9 These findings are supported by more recent research. Focus groups in research by McMillan and Robertson (2011)[8] found that young people were critical of dispersal orders and felt significantly curtailed and disempowered by the powers. In the consultation for the SYP Manifesto[9], 67% young people supported the statement, "The 'Mosquito' … should be banned". Deuchar (2010)[10], meanwhile, reported the experiences of 20 young men aged 14 to19 in Glasgow. They felt they were subjected to intense and unnecessary surveillance by the police and other agencies resulting in feeling oppressed and marginalised within their local communities.

9.10 Children and young people valued interventions that involved friendly and respectful interactions with youth justice professionals. The Lothian Police Service, for example, asked children aged 8 to14 their views on the police. Working with the Children's Parliament[11], 140 children completed a visual questionnaire and 24 took part in a consultation day. While both positive and negative views of the police were expressed, a common theme was a desire to have more opportunity to talk and interact with police in non-punitive ways.

9.11 Research on community wardens in Dundee utilised ethnography and interviews with 25 young people aged between 13 and 18[12]. The wardens successfully created opportunities for positive and meaningful encounters with both places and people. Young people were also broadly positive about the introduction of campus police officers in schools[13]. Using a case study approach to collect pupil experiences, the review found that pupils enjoyed contact with the campus officers and felt it made the school environment safer. However, while relations with campus officers were positive, the approach did not shift negative attitudes to police in the wider area.

The Children's Hearing System

9.12 Research on Children's Hearings has focused largely on how the system works and children and young people's participation herein (see section 3.24-3.31 for details). There was little evidence on how the Hearing System affects long term offending outcomes, from children and young people's perspectives, nor on children and young people's experiences of the treatment or interventions resulting from a hearing.

9.13 Doctoral research on secure accommodation[14] found that mechanisms for allowing young people to participate in decision making could be significantly strengthened. Ongoing problems with securing and maintaining suitable educational placements for looked after young people were reported and that those referred to secure seem to have high rates of educational difficulty and exclusion. The study concludes that professionals must be willing to listen to how young people feel and what they need.

9.14 A body of work is available on community-based youth justice interventions - intensive support and monitoring service (ISMS), restorative justice, acceptable behaviour contracts, youth courts. However, this all falls into the period before 2008.

Children and young people in detention

9.15 Experiences of detention were found to be heavily dependent on which unit young people were placed in, with overcrowding and lack of educational opportunities, support and through care being reported in certain locations. Separation from adult prisoners was found to significantly influence how young people experienced detention.

9.16 An inspection in 2009[15] looked specifically at three units: Friarton Hall (part of Perth prison although physically detached from it), Darroch Hall (in Greenock prison) and the all-female Bruce House (in Cornton Vale). The inspection involved discussions, focus groups and interviews with young people; however, it was difficult to identify their direct views within reports. Almost all of the comments of the young offenders in Greenock and Perth were positive, while almost all from Cornton Vale were negative. At Cornton Vale, young offenders lived most of their daily lives with adults. The facility was described as overcrowded and leisure, educational and dining facilities were extremely poor. Young prisoners in Greenock and Perth, meanwhile, reported feeling safe, first-class relationships with staff, excellent food and plentiful opportunities for work and education. Not only did these smaller units create a sense of community and belonging but the staff were specifically trained in working with young people. Most male young offenders are held in Polmont Young Offenders Institute, which was most recently inspected in 2012[16]. While the facility was found to be functioning adequately, more needed to be done to engage young people positively in education, support and through care.

9.17 Action for Children and Barnardo's Scotland conducted two focus groups with 11 young people aged 16-22 currently imprisoned within HMYOI Polmont[17]. The study sought to examine the issues facing young offenders when leaving prison. Young people faced many barriers, such as managing substance misuse, peer pressure (both to conform and return to offending), difficulty finding employment and more generally adjusting to life back in their own communities. Knowledge support and levels of support accessed varied significantly. Young people supported the concept of mentoring, emphasising that a successful mentor must have certain qualities: non-judgemental, understanding and trustworthy.

9.18 In the consultation for the SYP Manifesto, 65% supported compulsory education and training opportunities and the twinning of young offenders' institutions with further education colleges as a means of improving reintegration and reducing re-offending[18].

9.19 From the limited data available, it would appear that community based interventions were positively experienced by young people. One such project is 'Time for Change'[19] .Piloted during 2010/11, it offered a community based alternative to secure accommodation and/or custody for young women aged between 14 and 18 years, deemed to be vulnerable and at high risk of further involvement with offending and related behaviour. Fourteen young women were interviewed as part of the evaluation. They all reported a positive worker-service user relationship. Young women valued the service far above statutory measures (such as the Children's Hearing System and social work), emphasising workers' excellent knowledge, flexibility, accessibility and positive support.


9.20 There is little evidence on children and young people's views and experiences of special protection measures. Since 2008 major innovations in policy direction have been undertaken, particularly in the realm of youth justice. There is however, little evidence as to how this is being experienced by children and young people.

9.21 Young people's experiences of detention are reported through inspection reports. While improvements were clearly filtering into some units, many young people in detention continued to have a poor experience and little support in terms of transitioning back into their communities. Inspection Reports did not specifically draw out young people's views and experiences. Gender appeared to be an issue in terms of how detention was experienced and this would benefit from closer attention.

9.22 Children and young people's views and experiences of diversionary and pro-social projects (specifically those funded through CashBack for Communities) and community-based youth justice interventions (ISMS, restorative justice) would benefit from additional research.

9.23 Research on the Children's Hearing System focused specifically on the Hearing process. Rather less is understood about how the measures and requirements set by a Hearing are experienced and followed through and whether they have any lasting impact on outcomes and wellbeing.

9.24 Other specific gaps in evidence relate to: youth courts; legal aid and advice and assistance; child witnesses; the age of criminal responsibility; remand and under 18s; criminal proceedings and sentencing.