There are currently over 800 children in prison in the UK, with at least half coming from the care system. While incidents of physical restraint and self harm in youth detention centres have risen significantly, black children and children from other ethnic minorities continue to be disproportionately represented within prison settings.
Inside a system which favours compliance over care, children as young as five are prescribed Ritalin, and permanently excluded from school.
Award winning charity Safe Ground talks about life in prison for children, why the new lockdown rules for youth centres amount to child abuse, and how a brave group of boys are disrupting the youth justice system to make things better.
Safe Ground’s Executive Director Charlotte Weinberg talks with the Voice of the Child about the systemic racism inside youth justice, and the paradox which allows the state to physically restrain children while banning violence in the family home.
Callie Davidson, Safe Ground’s Programmes Coordinator, discusses the charity’s work, and why she believes prison is no place for a child.
You can listen to the podcast here.
Young people in custody
Youth Justice Statistics 2018/19
Hi and welcome to the Voice of the Child. Nearly 22,000 children were cautioned or sentenced from 2018 to 2019. And the average custodial sentence these children receive has risen sharply from 11 to 18 months. At the same time, incidents of physical restraint and self harm at youth detention centers have also shot up with more than 6,000 restraint cases and 1,800 cases of self harm recorded last year alone. Award-winning charity Safe Ground works with children in prison, offering them support and access to education, as well as creating alternative solutions to conventional forms of punishment like detention and school exclusions.
Charlotte Weinberg has been Safe Ground’s executive director since 2010. She has 30 years’ experience within youth and community work. And she’s also the chair of the Center for Crime and Justice Studies. Callie Davidson is Safe Ground’s program coordinator. She holds a BA in drama and has worked with young people doing drama and improvisation. Charlotte, the current stats that the government have released say that there are around 859 children in prison, but there’s been a staggering 60,200 arrests of children in the last year.
1 (1m 20s):
What do these figures say to you?
2 (1m 22s):
I say, I’m not very good at maths, but they say there’s something like 61,500 arrests that are leading to children that have not been sentenced or placed in the criminal justice system. So what do they get arrested for and why? Well, I’m pleased that those children are not being processed. Why are they being arrested then? Because if they’ve been arrested for things that don’t lead to a sentence, or maybe they’ve been sentenced to something in the community, I don’t know what there is for children in the community.
2 (1m 56s):
If I’m honest, I don’t know what that would look like.
1 (1m 59s):
And the figure of 859 young people in youth custody. That figure is for the year ending March, 2019. Does that concern you at all?
2 (2m 9s):
It concerns me massively. I think it is currently slightly less than that. At Safe Ground we don’t believe any children should be in prison for any reason. There must be alternative ways of looking after children who commit serious and violent and sexualized crime, because it is not an appropriate response. So to think we’ve got 859 children, young people in prison currently under COVID. Yeah, it concerns me hugely. It concerns the organization.
2 (2m 40s):
And I think it should concern anyone who hears about that statistic and more people should be hearing about it and having conversations about it. What are their children there for, or what’s happening to them? How are they getting looked after? Where do they go at the end of this sentence, what’s happened to them before their sentence? Who are they? Who are their families? What services are they receiving?
1 (3m 3s):
Callie. We know that some of these children are as young as 10 and, and the criminal age of responsibility enables children as young as 10 to be tried for various offenses. What do you think about the current criminal age of responsibility in the UK?
3 (3m 19s):
Well, I mean, I was, Charlie said we don’t need that. I’m going to say we don’t believe that any children should be in prison. So obviously I, I think to be, to be trying a 10 year old or someone as young as 10 with, as, as the age of criminal responsibility seems mad to me like, like, like you said, the children, they’re not necessarily matured enough to be able to understand the repercussions of what’s going on for them. And what’s happening as a result of possibly multiple factors that are weighing in on their lives.
3 (3m 54s):
That makes sense.
1 (3m 55s):
The latest data that we’ve also received from the government tells us that black children are disproportionately represented inside the youth justice system. And we know that from March, 2006, to March, 2019, the percentage of young people in custody who are black has more than doubled from 12.5% to 27.8%. Charlotte, why do you think that is?
2 (4m 18s):
Oh, I think it’s because structural racism underpins our entire criminal justice system, our education, housing and welfare provision. So it’s inevitable that that level of disproportionality is going to manifest in the final destination of the criminal justice system. And can I just add one thing to Callie’s answer about the age of responsibility? I agree with everything Callie said, and in my limited experience of working in the criminal justice system since about 2009, and having worked with children and families involved in the criminal justice system, since about the mid nineties, I have yet to meet staff in a secure children’s secure training center or secure children center who have a 10 year old in their establishment.
2 (5m 18s):
That’s not to say that doesn’t happen, but I think it’s rare. So the fact that that 10 remains the age of responsibility seems not only outrageously inappropriate, but totally anomalous. I’m sure there will be lots of people who can now give us lots of cases of 10 year olds that have actually been held in secure settings. I personally haven’t come across it. So I wonder what the, what the reason for holding onto that is because other countries and other states have managed to raise their rights and responsibilities.
2 (5m 53s):
They age used to be higher and it was lowered after a very specific occurrence. Why was it lowered? It was lowered because of the murder of Jamie Bulger and the children who committed that offense were 10 at the time.
1 (6m 6s):
Going back for a moment to black children within the youth justice system. What the data effectively tells us is that black children are four times more likely than white children to be arrested. How do we address systemic racism within the youth justice system?
2 (6m 22s):
Well, I think that’s a great question, Natasha. And if anyone could answer that, they’d be doing a lot of podcasts. I think in order to address systemic racism in the criminal justice system, we need to be able to address systemic racism. The criminal justice system is racist because it is born out of a wider system, a set of institutions that’s are fundamentally racist because they are born out of a set of thinking and frameworks that categorize and hold a hierarchy of people’s value and worth that is tiered and black people and black women sit at the bottom of those tiers.
2 (7m 5s):
It is therefore inevitable that the criminal justice system will be harsher more punitive against black women and then black men and brown people as we go up the hierarchy, as it is established, that is how structural racism is bound to operate. And every institution and system will inherit those fundamentally racist understandings.
1 (7m 34s):
We also saw from the data that more than 6,000 cases of physical restraint at youth detention centers were recorded last year, is this a technique that is sometimes necessary, and when carried out properly can be done humanely or does it cause longterm damage to children, and is it a procedure you feel should be banned?
2 (7m 51s):
When I hear any of these questions immediately, I think of how the people who work in these institutions might answer them. And I think about those people, many of whom I have met and, you know, I’ve met some lovely people that work in secure detention centers. I work with a lot of people that I like and admire who are trained in controlling restraint. Do I think there are ways to control them with restraint safely? I’ve been told many times by people who work in those settings that yes, and that it is often necessary and useful, and that yes, it is possible to control and restrain children safely.
2 (8m 34s):
As someone who has chosen actively to not work in those settings Partly because I couldn’t bear to do that, I struggle with the notion. Do I understand that children who are suffering extreme and complex trauma may sometimes behave in extremely difficult, often violent, unpredictable ways that can be dangerous? Totally. I totally believe and understand that. I think using control and restraint is an institutionalized response, that’s just sanctioned and protected by organizations and institutions.
2 (9m 13s):
I think when families experienced violence from their children and used violence in response that’s questionable. Families aren’t allowed to use violence against their children, no matter how they’re justifying, but the state and our institutions and our organizations are able to use control and restraint to not say violence against children who demonstrate complex behavior. I find it confusing. And if I find it confusing, I think it must be confusing for children.
1 (9m 42s):
Do you ever get any feedback from children who have had experience of physical restraint and whether or not it’s actually made the complex trauma they may already be suffering, worse?
2 (9m 52s):
I mean, in my experience, children don’t talk in those terms, what children and young people would say about restraint is it didn’t matter. He, they didn’t feel anything. It wasn’t that bad. You know, it’s been done so many times. It doesn’t even matter anymore. They know what’s coming, they wind them up so that they make them do it. You know, children who experienced complex trauma and are suffering, the experience of abuse, assault, attack and are hyper vigilant being controlled and restrained by adults, Isn’t something that gets talked about in terms of trauma.
2 (10m 27s):
It’s something that gets talked about in terms of bravado and children find ways to dismiss and minimize and look for their own experiences, particularly those that are unbearable or difficult to cope with your manager or those that they think are going to be belittled or dismissed. So it is rare to have an opportunity to sit and talk with children and young people who’ve experienced restraint in a therapeutic manner or in a way in which those children are enabled or feel safe enough or willing enough in a relationship to talk about. Actually it was petrifying.
2 (10m 58s):
I didn’t know if I was going to survive. I’ve heard about children and young people that have died by being held in these holes. I’m really scared. I don’t like being threatened by someone who’s physically larger than me, or by having two staff come in my room and hold me down. I find it really difficult to talk about. That is a rare conversation, in my limited experience.
1 (11m 23s):
In spite of these enormous challenges, some of the boys you’ve been working with inside the youth justice system have been able to disrupt the prison sector with a really innovative plan to change the way children’s detention centers look and work. Tell us more about these amazing boys and their initiative.
2 (11m 38s):
So these amazing boys were to be fair, eight children who four of them still are held in a secure children’s center, were invited to take part in a research projects with us. They were broken into groups of four. So we worked with four in the morning and four in the afternoon. They didn’t really know what was going on before they met us and staff just asked them if they would like to come and meet us and talk to us.
2 (12m 8s):
So we designed a creative storytelling based format to take the boys through a process of critical thinking, really around the design of a new secure unit, for children in the West Midlands. And we were commissioned to do this work by a senior policy advisor for the area. So we took the boys through the details of the work that policy makers were thinking of building a new secure unit.
2 (12m 38s):
And they wanted to hear from children who might represent children that would be held in a secure unit as to what that should look like and what it meant for children who are looked after by the state’s children in care to be held in a secure setting, as opposed to children that are processed by the criminal justice system. And we wanted the boys to think with us about whether either of those children should be held in a secure unit.
2 (13m 11s):
And what’s, it meant if they should be held together. So children who are in care because of welfare concerns and children who are in custody, because they’ve been sentenced by the courts. So the boys were asked to engage in quite sophisticated piece of thinking about, well, what’s the difference between these children and is it okay for children in care to be put effectively in a place that is predominantly used to keep children in custody?
2 (13m 41s):
So the boys created a character. They took him through a fictional process that they designed, and they were asked at various points in his story, what should happen to him. And some really interesting things came out of that research. The boys believed, and they were talking about a child. They were talking about a boy under, around their own age, 15, 16, a boy under 18, boys that were sentenced by the court Were bad and deserved punishment where, what they described as the welfare kid was a victim.
2 (14m 24s):
And he should be looked after because he’d probably not had a great childhood. So they in their heads were already splitting the idea of a victim and a perpetrator, and that a child could be one or the other. And that a child that is a victim is worthy of and deserves care and compassion and concern. And shouldn’t be in a secure unit, whereas a child who has committed a crime has violated the rules, been bad made decisions and deserves punishment.
2 (15m 1s):
These children were 15, 16. I think one of them was 14. So we found that really powerful. We wrote a very brief report of the process for the policymaker who had commissioned the work and on reading it, it, he was really struck by this idea that children were making themselves responsible for a situation and a set of circumstances that that meant they were in prison aged 15.
2 (15m 43s):
And as a result of reading the boys thinking decided that actually the idea for a secure, a new secure center in the West Midlands probably wasn’t what he wanted to do anymore. And he’s rethinking the whole design of that service. So with his permission, we sent the report and told the boys that they had had that kind of impact at that level. Four of the boys are no longer in the establishment. Great. Four of the boys are still there and we know that they have received a copy of the report, and we’re hoping to be able to get some feedback from them and talk to them about the report.
2 (16m 22s):
And now this this podcast. We wanted to be able to involve some of them in the podcast, but we just didn’t have the time or the resources, but we will be keeping them up to date with the fact that they’ve had such a massive impact.
1 (16m 35s):
It’s brilliant that they’ve been able to disrupt the system in that way, but it’s also heartbreaking that as you say, they’ve felt they’ve had to carry a burden, which isn’t of their own making. And we also know that a large number of children from the care system find themselves inside the youth justice system. So there is a connection there. Charlotte, did the boys ever offer you any feedback about their own experiences inside prison?
2 (16m 60s):
They did. We weren’t there to talk about that, but it was inevitable because during the course of the process and the characters that they created, the boys, made allusion to their own experience and in some of the conversations were quite free in sharing with us, the fact that they had been in multiple placements, they had been in care previous to coming into prison. And they had been in different custodial settings. I think, I think the statistic for children in custodial settings is that around 50% of them have been in care.
2 (17m 38s):
60% of children in custodial settings have been in the care of the States. Children are removed from their domestic environment for welfare reasons. And yet 50% of the children that have been removed for welfare reasons are in a custodial setting that is hard to understand, you know, when they say, could you explain it to an alien that landed from another planet?
2 (18m 10s):
I find it really difficult to make that make sense. Children can’t be looked after at home. So we place them in an environment that is designed for punishment. That’s not to suggest that some children don’t commit crimes, they do, but it is also to question, what is happening for a child that commits the crime. If the boys don’t mind you speaking on their behalf and they don’t mind you sharing this information, what did they say to you about prison and how it affected them?
2 (18m 43s):
Some of the boys in particular process talks about their holiday camp experience and the fact that they could differentiate between which were the best places to be in, which were the worst places to be. So on a superficial level, some of the boys talk freely about the fact that, you know, their current placement is really positive and really good. And it’s great that they’re there often that’s in comparison to other places they have been. It is unusual. Like I said earlier for boys and children to sit and talk about the gravity and depravity of the situation that they’re in, because children tend to try and find, particularly with people they don’t know very well Ways of describing circumstances and situations that are bearable.
2 (19m 30s):
That makes sense. It’s a protective mechanism, spending time and building relationships with children that are in circumstances and situations that are unbearable means that sometimes you do get an insight into the huge impact that just regardless of the conditions of a particular environment, the moving around and knowing that you’re not stable, not secure, not attached to a family or an environment or a group of people, it’s totally unnatural, rightly or wrongly, but in the culture of the United Kingdom It’s just not natural that you see different people every day coming in and out of what’s supposed to be your home.
2 (20m 17s):
You know, these are false environments. It’s unnatural that you grow up in a house with 20, 30, 10 other children and adults in every room all the time. These things, no matter how benign they might be at their best, how pleasant they might be, are not natural. They are unusual. And they are either at the behest of the court or of the State. So something children know they are in a system, they are a case.
2 (20m 50s):
They have a file, they have a worker and they have a process to go through that, differentiates them from their peers who don’t have that. So I think the boys often talk quite positively about their experience. Having said that in another institution where we did a piece of work, it was very clear that there was absolutely nothing positive about where they were. And they were desperate to get out what was going on for them. It was not positive in any way, shape or form. The experience was totally coloured, flavored, informed by a lack of trust and a lack of faith in the system that held them.
2 (21m 30s):
And from spending a while in that environment, I could totally understand what that was based on.
1 (21m 36s):
Callie, I’ve seen a project on your website called Man Up. What did that project involve?
3 (21m 42s):
So Man Up is a program that we have run in the past and continue to run. It’s an ongoing program. It is a three day group work program that we work with young men and adult men to consider the sort of pressures and expectations that come along with the identity of being a man. Obviously some of these can kind of exacerbate behaviors, which can be harmful and negative.
3 (22m 13s):
So the participants are supported to look at the stereotypes that are associated with being a man. It’s not, it’s not therapy, but it’s therapeutic based work where we work. We work through with the participants to kind of understand the concept of masculinity and identity.
1 (22m 37s):
It’s more succinct. When you were doing that project or when you were doing that project with, with young men and boys specifically, what do they say to you most about their sense of identity in today’s world?
2 (22m 49s):
Boys don’t often say my sense of identity in today’s world is X. The work that we do that I think Callie really brilliantly described, creates an environment and opportunity for boys and men because we run it with adults as well to think about the cultural and social norms they are expected to fulfill. So they might talk about for them, the importance of being able to provide for their families or having a car.
2 (23m 20s):
I’m trying to think about, you know, the boys, particularly the younger boys and young adults that we’ve worked with, money, material possessions, and kind of provision are really important boys. We’ll talk about that quite a lot. And they will also talk about the importance of their having a very clearly defined heterosexual relationship with a particular type of woman who will fulfill their own needs and wants and desires.
2 (23m 55s):
So they could express their understandings and their masculinity through the work in terms of what they think is important. And at the beginning of the program, which is only three days, often, that will be expressed in terms of what’s important externally. So how they’re going to be judged by other people, the money, the cars, the job, the woman, the kids, the trainers, the whatever it might be.
2 (24m 25s):
And through the course of the work often, what starts to happen is that boys will start to think and talk about their integrity, their maturity, their emotional availability, their understanding of their role in relationships. It’s not always a fairy tale and it’s far from a happy ending. Very often boys will start the program saying, you know, if my woman goes out, my girl goes out without me knowing, Oh, we had one, I think it was a group was talking about if their girlfriend smoked, she would have to stop smoking.
2 (24m 60s):
And I mean, on the one hand, that’s not an unreasonable request. Who wants to be going out with a smoker? But when it was flipped and the boys were asked, well fine, are you going to give up smoking as well? That was totally out of the question. And a lot of those attitudes didn’t necessarily change during the course of the three days, we were able to have conversations very explicitly with the boys about, so what is that what’s going on there that you’re allowed to change her, but you don’t have to change?
2 (25m 31s):
And what do you think that is about? And the program deals with issues of power and control and authority and anger and relationships with yourself and other people. So boys get into quite a kind of high level conversation with themselves and each other about where they are, where they position themselves in terms of those power dynamics. And I think one of the most beautiful and moving and very difficult, I’m getting upset when I think about it, manifestations of that was when we ran the program in a, in a custodial setting with a group of young men all under, the oldest was 17.
2 (26m 12s):
Many of whom were facing sentences that were longer than their life so far. And we had spent a couple of days probably doing, some of this really difficult and challenging work and the boys found it really difficult to focus. They’re hypervigilant. They’re looking out of the windows constantly. They’re aware of who’s around, they’re waiting for bells to go. They’re finding it difficult to be sitting down in a space they’re and on their feet and kind of literally bouncing around, but they were engaging in and doing the work.
2 (26m 44s):
And I think it was probably during the second day, a lot of really difficult stuff had been talked about and had to come up in the group. And at one point, one of the boys were sat on a chair and about five of them were standing around him and his hair. So whilst talking about hugely violent and difficult experiences, they were showing each other care and attention and affection and looking after each other and physical intimacy in one of the only ways that they were able to do it, which was by grooming each other.
2 (27m 25s):
And it was really, really, really poignant. And like I say, it still moves me now
0 (27m 30s):
2 (27m 31s):
Because those boys, which have never asked for a cuddle or been able to just hug each other, but they stood around each other and spent time on that boy’s head. And maybe that’s just my interpretation of it. And I’m being sentimental. And I’m an old woman who doesn’t know what she’s talking about, but it was a very powerful image that has stayed with me because to me it had enormous meaning.
1 (27m 55s):
It sounds incredibly powerful and also very beautiful. In terms of the prison system, as it is at the moment, especially with the current restrictions that have been imposed because of coronavirus, the landscape within the youth justice system has changed extraordinarily. And a lot of people inside that sector are concerned about the, the current restrictions in place. Can you talk to us a little bit about what those restrictions are and how they’ve affected children in prison?
2 (28m 22s):
So for everyone in a custodial setting, since March, COVID has required an institutional response that has been on the one hand extreme in that complete lockdown has been undertaken. Whilst that’s understandable, clearly it has enormous implications. So 23 and a half hours in a cell is not unusual across the custodial estate at the moment.
2 (28m 58s):
So for many establishments, many adult establishments that is changing, that hasn’t been necessarily the same in every establishment. And I’m sure there will be people who listen to this, who can argue and point out different instances. And I totally accept that. I don’t hold myself up as an expert, but across this, they full locked down has been the institutional response to preventing what could have been a huge outbreak of COVID in obviously conditions in which proximity is difficult to manage for children that has been the same.
2 (29m 37s):
And there’s a statutory instrument that has been passed, which has amended the and regulations for secure training centers that now means children can be held in their cells for up to 22 and a half hours a day. Now, while that’s been passed, as we’re coming to the end of lockdown, I have to admit I’m not actually because when adult prisons are starting to lift and ease their lockdown regulations, it seems that the secure training sentences are tightening and harshening theirs, I’m not clear as to why that is, but there has been quite an outcry about the fact that children are facing reduced access to education, reduced access to visits, reduce time outside there.
2 (30m 18s):
So even to be with each other in the dining hall or community areas. And so the impact for children, as you can imagine is effectively being held in solitary confinement, children don’t share cells. So on your own, someone at the beginning of quarantine said, if people really believe that they understand what it’s like being in prison, because the country’s gone into lockdown, they should actually, if they want to get a sense of what it is, like lock themselves in their bathroom for 23 hours, that’s the only way you can get anywhere close that.
2 (30m 58s):
Of course it won’t be anywhere close because you’re in your house and you can unlock it. But I think his point was that’s, that’s a closer analogy than just having your front door locked. So for children to be effectively in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day, for months at a time with no physical visits with their families with often patchy letter delivery, with limited access to phone calls and no virtual visits then, I think for anyone to really seriously close their eyes and try and imagine what that is like would be difficult.
1 (31m 34s):
We also know that under the amendments, those restrictions have been extended to March, 2022, which is very different to other settings where regulations will be eased by this coming September. Callie, why do you think that that extension is so wide within the youth justice system?
2 (31m 55s):
I personally can’t think of a reason why it needs to be other than the fact that it gets that it would get the government time to establish slow easing. Charlie might do want to jump in. Yeah, I think Callie’s point is reasonable. Maybe there are plans to figure out how to safely bring children back out of lockdown. There’s another question, however, which has to do with, I would suggest that it’s contentious, you know, and like I say, I have no personalized issue with individual staff who work in establishments.
2 (32m 35s):
There were a lot of well meaning caring, individuals who work in, however, in any establishment, there are part rules and regimes that are designed to run on who can, and can’t mingle with whom, we’re talking about children and young people being kept apart from each other because of the dangers that the institution understands through their mixing. So because of affiliations because of previous antagonisms,because of unspent conflict, children and young people have to be what is commonly referred to as kept apart.
2 (33m 10s):
So the regime will run on the basis that X children are going across the courtyard at this time. So why children must not be anywhere near or available during that period, not to design an entire regime on who can and can’t be in which geographical location, when is extremely complicated. It means that everyone’s movement is even more restricted than it is by virtue of the fact that you’re in custody. So we already know there are, I think you said 870 or children, young people who present.
2 (33m 44s):
Natasha, of those 870 young people, Many are increasingly, although youth justice figures have gone down the numbers of young black men in prison have gone up, they’re serving longer sentences. The youth, estate has long been known amongst custodian settings, as one of the more difficult areas to work in. Lots of staff prefer working with adults because it’s calmer. Young people tend to cause more alarms have more fights. So there’s a certain attitude and understanding around what it means to work with young people, which I’m not agreeing when I’m saying that exists.
2 (34m 22s):
So there’s already a kind of environment in which young people are housed on the basis that they’re a bit troubled, and they tend to kickoff and tend to be naughty and difficult, staff know that it’s going to be difficult. And now they’re increasingly serving long sentences. They happen to be black. Maybe they’ve been sentenced for violent offenses or they’re part of organized crime. They’ve been involved in drugs. You know, all the kind of curiosities and concerns that staff might have get to be played out.
2 (34m 52s):
Often young people and children that are in custodial settings may have come from care, 50% of them do, may or may not have already had experience of significant and severe disappointment from adults. And certainly from services and organizations like schools, where there may have been excluded. It is a hotbed for conflict and resentment, distrust, and a dislike of authority and inappropriate use of authority.
2 (35m 25s):
So to keep children locked up for 22 and half hours a day, if you wanted to be kind of looking at this from the worst case scenario, you could say also offers institutions and opportunities to kind of figure out how they’re going to cope with the potential for extremely challenging environments. Now that young people have been in solitary confinement for four months, how are they going to cope with kids coming out of that? Not feeling safe, knowing that everyone’s scared and the virus hasn’t gone away knowing that they haven’t seen their loved ones.
2 (36m 0s):
It might not. And not knowing when they are knowing that they haven’t had the education. And if they were on the path to get back into education, that’s been scuppered now, when are they going to get to do their exams? They already getting behind. They’re going to be even more behind. The environment that that must be festering and fostering. Again, it’s difficult to think about. So I wonder for whose benefit those restrictions had been made, because it’s difficult to understand how they’re for the benefit of the young people.
1 (36m 28s):
One of the things this conversation is really highlighting and bringing home is that children in prison are connected to all sorts of other issues. And there are elements that are so interconnected with one another, they really can’t be ignored. From children in care finding themselves inside the youth justice system to school exclusions and how that affects children, who then may find themselves inside the youth justice system. And I know that school exclusions is a particular area that you focus on. We’ve seen from the latest government report that there have been 7,900 occasions of children being permanently excluded in 2017 to 2018.
1 (37m 6s):
And that’s the equivalent of about 42 children a day being expelled. We also know that there’s been a rise in knife crime amongst the youth demographic. How do all those things interconnect Callie and, and what are your feelings about those issues?
3 (37m 22s):
Well, so I think in all programs, we have a, we have a policy that we don’t exclude anyone. So if, if a participant wants to leave off their back and we’ve had a discussion about that and that there are reasons for that, that’s one, and we don’t ask anyone to leave. And that’s because we want to foster an environment where we can show the participants in the programs that we do have the faith in their abilities that they, they do hold.
3 (37m 53s):
And often participants in our programs will have been excluded or have experience of being excluded from other programs or other educational settings. And I think to exclude children from programs or from schools kind of gives out the message that if they exhibit behavior that is difficult to manage, that we won’t bother at all. And that I don’t think that’s the way forward. I think, I think, I think children can only aspire to the levels that the adults in their lives set for them.
3 (38m 24s):
And if we’re kind of setting a level of, well, if you kind of bypass this level of behavior, then we won’t bother anymore. Why, why would anyone want to persevere? So I can kind of understand how these children feel if, if they’re to be excluded based, based on their behavior. And then I, I mean, Charlie will be able to say more on this, but I think in terms of knife crime and exclusion, when, when children are excluded, that means that they, they have, they don’t, they, you know, school is how many hours a day, nine hours a day or something that they’ve got a lot more time to fail.
3 (39m 1s):
And it’s obviously far less structured and constructive time than it would be if they were in an educational setting. So I think children tend to be excluded because of that behavior. And really, the children who are excluded because of that behavior are probably the children who need support the most. And like you say, everything’s, you know, children in the criminal justice system everything’s really interwoven. So yeah. They might be in care. Well, they might be, they might come from a sort of difficult family background or setting or dealing with with really tricky context and they’re the children that schools abandon when, when, when they’re excluded really, they’re the ones who need the support the most.
3 (39m 43s):
Charlie, you might want to add to that. Yeah. I mean, all of the above, I think the Timpson review, I think it came out last year, found that African Caribbean heritage, gypsy,
2 (39m 60s):
Roma traveler children were three to four times more likely to be excluded from schools, three to four times more likely to be excluded and bear in mind that these are children who already experience racism on a day to day basis, a racist environment, but essentially bullying not only from their peers, but also from teachers and who have experienced stereotyping daily, if not instantaneously and who have the experience of a curriculum that totally either excludes them or again, stereotypes their entire history.
2 (40m 43s):
Those children are three to four times more likely to then be excluded from a system that already excludes them, think about what we’re doing and what we’re saying. By the way, I mean the state. So exclusion is a brilliant way of individualizing,when in fact, it is a structural problem. It locates the problem in a child, and it says to them, you are naughty.
2 (41m 13s):
You’re so naughty that the rest of us who are not naughty, cannot cope with you. You are so naughty that you are destructing an environment in which we wish to learn. This environment is not pleasurable with you in it. So we will take you out of it. And then we can get back to having a nice time. You are the problem off you go, and you sort yourself out, sit on the naughty step, go to the headmaster’s office, go into CBT or take Ritalin or whatever it is that we intended to do. You go with your problem and you sort yourself out, you find an individual way to deal with your individual problem and leave the rest of us alone, because it’s too much for us we’re all fine.
2 (41m 53s):
I’ve known five year old boys who have been put on Ritalin. You go and sort yourself out and we’ll crack on without you. Thanks very much, ciao, goodbye. To individualize what are actually structural issues, whether they’re violence or abuse or ignorance, the fact that an entire educational curriculum or entire nation state doesn’t cover colonial history or slavery in any meaningful way, that’s exclusion. Those children were already excluded to then throw them out of the door, literally and tell them to go and find a way to make themselves better.
2 (42m 31s):
What is that? If a family did that to a child, the child would be removed from them, but we have institutions doing that to children, who have a duty of care.
4 (42m 45s):
2 (42m 46s):
They’re saying these children are too difficult for them to cope with and then they’re being put on Ritalin. So actually the problem is what ADHD or something. Why are adults unable to cope with children and why are children being punished for that?
1 (43m 3s):
Well, Safe Ground is trying to address a lot of those issues with the work that it does. And it is amazing work. What future child focused projects do you have in the works?
2 (43m 12s):
Thanks Natasha. So, I mean, we really love kids at Safe Ground. The staff team are hugely creative. And I think the creative work that we do feeds our energy. So we often make a bit of a rod for ourselves because every day about three people come in and pitch an idea. So it’s tricky to keep track and then put into practice everything that we want to. However, at the moment we have an idea that I don’t want to say too much about because it’s very early days, but an idea for some development of what to do with exactly the issues we’ve been talking around around how the curriculum, which is actually is exclusive and how formal education fails to teach children, either facts about history in a kind of 360 degree manner.
2 (44m 3s):
To give children a full picture of the world, the globe, and what happened, where, when, why, who was involved, but also critical thinking skills. It doesn’t, the facts are less important. You can read facts that you totally disagree with. As long as you understand that you disagree with them. And as long as you can make a cogent argument as to why, why you agree, why you disagree? What do you think about that? So I think for us development of the work is going to be around understanding children and young people and continuing to help adults understand what in the system what’s happening.
2 (44m 43s):
Who’s doing what to whom, why, how to, what effect, where am I in that? And what does it mean? Callie, I think that’s a reasonable summary I gave, yeah. Do you want to add anything? Is there anything else I’ve missed out that you can think of?
3 (44m 59s):
I mean, in terms of young people, I’d say that that’s the kind of key thing we’ve been thinking about, you know, help with that. We’re also obviously looking at how we can adapt to working during the lockdown in prisons, during COVID-19 that’s kind of with the adult state, although I imagine not exclusively. Yeah. Yeah. And also, we’re working with, we’re kind of one step removed or two steps removed working with, with children of parents in prison.
2 (45m 33s):
Natasha, can I go backwards for one minute? Of course you can. I’m really sorry to do this, but I think I’ve got really exercised. And I think it’s also important in terms of school exclusion, just to think about the fact that 1 in 10 young black men has been stopped and searched with no result in London. So we’re throwing children out of school and expelling and excluding young people in a context where they’ve been stopped and searched at massive disproportionate rates to their white peers, very often for no good reason other than the police being suspicious.
2 (46m 16s):
And I think what Callie was saying about school exclusions, you know, the propensity for children that are out of school to be available and present to manipulation abuse, grooming by older peers and adults, that’s what a duty of care is for that’s what safeguarding is about. That’s why institutions have a duty of care to children to protect them and keep them safe from grooming, manipulation, abuse by older peers and adults.
2 (46m 50s):
So the fact that we on the one hand exclude children from our institutions and then punish them for having been exploited again, thinking about the alien I’m trying to explain the system to, I’m getting a little bit lost, to be honest, it’s very, very difficult to make it make sense.