‘We lay the foundations so they can soar', said Anna, our retiring Virtual School Head, this week at her leaving do. Like so many of our staff in East Sussex, and across local government, Anna has dedicated her life to supporting kids who have had complex and challenging lives, those who operate on the margins and are all too quickly marginalised. Whilst some may hold the view that they may not be instantly loveable (I most definitely do not) Anna would say it's the love of a stable family that they need which includes consistency, boundaries, and self-belief. This is where local authorities come in with regards to the services we provide.
As I listened to Anna speak, I reflected on the meeting a number of directors of children's services and other local authority reps attended recently at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). A number of organisations and individuals have picked up on my personal priority as President, and by extension, the Association's priority around raising the profile of hidden adolescents. At the meeting, which included reps from the MoJ, the Youth Justice Board and the new Youth Custody Service, we were able to highlight our concerns about the secure estate and discussed how we can collectively better safeguard and support our children. Increased incidents of serious violence in STCs and YOIs, is resulting in young people spending more and more time in their cells due to security concerns and staffing shortages. This impacts on their access to health and education provision so is it then any wonder that our most complicated young people who are unable to access this support find themselves least able to succeed when released and return to custody all too quickly?
One of the lessons I have taken from running secure children's homes is they do provide an unrivalled opportunity to begin to resolve unmet health issues and provide young people with a positive learning environment for the first time. If we are serious about resettlement these really are givens. That said local authorities are not blameless, ensuring the provision of a stable placement on release is both difficult and unsettling and there's more we can do on this front together, I think.
There is also a real need for us to change the narrative too, these young people tell us they are continually judged on the offence they committed rather than the journey they have been on in custody. This can only happen if they have been enabled to make a meaningful change in their lives rather than simply being locked up in a cell for hours on end. At the MoJ meeting we also talked about the development of secure schools. If we get it right this provision may well take us in this direction although it remains some way off and we should never forget prevention is always better than cure for young people with shaky foundations and we all have a role to play here.
Stuart Gallimore is president of the ADCS and DCS in East Sussex. This blog first appeared on the ADCS website