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Criminal Care? · 26 Jul 2019

Addressing unnecessary criminalisation in a children’s home

Last October, Susan blogged about issues in the care home where she works that were leading to the criminalisation of children living there. In this post she reflects on changes to practice in the home in the first half of this year that have led to more positive outcomes for children.

“In 2018 there were numerous arrests of young people in the children’s home I work in after the police were called because of household damage. So far in 2019 there has only been one arrest for such behaviour. Hopefully in 2020 there will be no arrests of young people because the home I work in will finally move away from the culture of phoning/threatening to phone the police when damage is being caused.

“My explanation for the significant reduction in arrests is the changing philosophy within the home for understanding and responding to the challenging behaviour that young people can display. This change includes the introduction of key words into the home’s vocabulary and practise, such as “trauma”, “attachment” and “self-regulation”. The current key word that is in the process of being introduced is “restorative”, so young people receive the opportunity to reflect on, repair and resolve challenging situations without police involvement.

“The benefits of this change in philosophy was evidenced over the weekend when a young person expressed their frustration by smashing the front window of the home. Instead of phoning the police like we would have done last year and adding to their trauma, a restorative process was applied throughout the day.  This resulted in the young person engaging in the opportunity to reflect on the reasons behind their frustration, consider the harm it caused, show remorse and apologise, and start to discuss ways to repair and resolve the issues to prevent a repeat.

Police involvement for household damage makes the situation worse, not better

“What shone through this restorative process was the young person’s ability for expressing themselves calmly and reasonably. This probably wouldn’t have happened if they were arrested and locked up because based on past experience police involvement for household damage makes the situation worse, not better. Applying the restorative process also enabled more understanding of the young person’s difficulties because this approach encourages dialogue and cooperation, which is in contrast to artificial punishments such as supervised spends and loss of Wi-Fi that can cause disengagement and conflict.

“I know the value of restorative practice from facilitating sessions in my previous roles in schools and youth and community centres, so I’m pleased that the process of embedding it into the thoughts, communication and actions of the home I work in is finally underway.  Embracing the restorative process is also something that the local police officers I’ve spoken to have been keen to see happen to prevent more criminalisation of young people in residential care.”

Susan (not her real name) is a residential care worker in a children’s home in England


  • joan miller says:

    Wonderful news ! You cant control violence with violent reactions, a calm and reflective approach is much better. Well done !

  • I am very pleased with this approach, I think this is the way forward. I was in Barnardos years ago. Didnt get much punishment myself as I was a withdrawn child apparently, when I was a teenager, got into trouble then, used to go out and not come home, they would find me and call the police and I would have to stay in a cell for hrs, it didnt work, I didn’t care made me more rebellious

  • In these difficult times for the care system, when government policies are driving child protection to destruction, Susan’s piece , describing her team’s work at this children’s home is a shining light. In my childhood memoir, “The Golly in the Cupboard”, I describe how, in our children’s home, we constantly lived with threats of punishment, being sent away to remand homes, approved schools and of criminalisation. Such systems are not designed to assist the young person but to protect abusive managerial and staff practices, disempowering the young person. An abandoned Mixed Race child, I spent my youth under such regimes, which protected severe child abuse. That was in the 50s and 60s. However, as a lecturer and campaigner on issues of social care, I am constantly made aware by young people, careleavers and social workers that these oppressive practices remain rife today, and not only in children’s homes but also within the fostering placements.
    I hope that the work of Susan and her colleagues is able to be spread as evidential best practice throughout social care, as one step in allowing our young people to prosper, and well-intentioned carers will see themselves rewarded by increased job satisfaction.
    Yours faithfully,
    Dr Phil Frampton

  • This is surely the way ahead. I hope staff in institutions will also be trained to use a restorative approach instead of physical restraint.

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