Celebrating the value of ‘dirty work’

Kristina Moodie attended Circle’s annual lecture which addressed the realities of social work practice, and came away realising social workers need support and not mistrust.

Q: How come they bury social workers 300 feet in the ground?

A: Deep down they are really good people.

Circle is a Scottish charity that works in deprived communities across central Scotland. Since it began life 40 years ago as a Family Service Unit (FSU) it has grown to become a large organisation supporting families affected by imprisonment, families struggling with drug or alcohol misuse, primary school age mentoring, kinship carers and much more.  Circle also provides vital learning opportunities for social work students by providing them with practice teaching and placements.

In order to acknowledge that aspect of the work they do, Professor Bill Whyte (Professor of Social Work Studies in Criminal and Youth Justice, Edinburgh University) spoke at the Annual Lecture in October entitled ‘A Celebration: 40 Years of Practice Learning in Circle’.

Professor Whyte addressed the realities of social work practice. He began by pointing out that some studies have suggested social workers spend 80% of their time on a computer rather than working hands on with clients and he wondered what, in that case, today’s social work students were being trained for?

He asked if there was such a thing as a ‘Scottish social worker’ by drawing from the report of the 21st Century Social Work Review Changing Lives, via the Christie Commission report and the Munro review of child protection, who all identified a need for change in practice in Scotland.

He talked about continuous learning, the importance of sustaining that learning and not reinventing the wheel every time, when coproduction works well and the inseparability of life and risk. He reminded us that service users are not passive recipients, that interpersonal relationships are not just transactional, that people need circles of support and a sense of agency and control and hope in order to desist from crime and be socially integrated.

Professor Whyte quoted sociologist Everett Hughes, who in 1951 referred to what he called ‘dirty work’, whereby certain occupations are considered physically, socially or morally tainted by the work they do that is necessary for the survival of society.   Annette Flaherty in 2013 went on to use this same terminology to describe child protection workers in the Northern Territories of Australia as regards personal stigma related to the work they do. This caught my attention and inspired me to seek out Flaherty’s work following the lecture.   The child protection workers she interviewed were working with Aboriginal families and were very much aware that they were considered the enemy, not only by the families but also by other service providers.

Professor Whyte asked how much do social work organisations take on the hurt and pain of social workers.  Can regular structured supervision support social workers, create a positive team dynamic, a supportive environment and confidence in the work they do?

Flaherty might have been describing an extreme situation in Australia where there is sensitive recent history with racist practices being adopted by Government policy, leading to a ‘Stolen Generation’ of Aboriginal people when children were regularly removed from their families.  But even in this country the media tends to show children and families social workers as fanatical about breaking up families and ‘taking your kids away’ while criminal justice social workers are derided for being ‘soft on criminals’. How does this negativity affect social workers individually, as teams and when it comes to working with other agencies?

The Munro report in 2011 identified this as an issue for the workforce and highlighted studies showing that the media had taken a ‘hostile’ position to social workers since the 1970s. It suggested social workers and social work employers should take the opportunity to work with local and regional media to present a more positive view of social work and its importance to society.

This week a new book and a BBC1 documentary examined the 2007 case of the death of ‘Baby P’. It has emerged that the police and the media (those who were in control of the story) may have used their powers to direct blame towards both the social services and the politics of the government at the time – despite Ofsted initially giving a positive inspection of Haringey children’s social care.  In the case of the police they were also acting to minimise their own, now documented, failures in bringing the case to court.

It would seem that the danger this child was in was missed due to errors on the part of the medical services, the police and indeed social work, yet only one service was named, shamed and publically blamed by the media: social work.  The three individuals who carried out the torture and death of the toddler could not be identified publically and the public responded by clamouring for punishment for the only people they could identify at fault: the social workers.

Although these tragic cases that so capture the imagination of the public can result in good lessons being learned, social work policy can’t be led or dictated to by disaster.  And absolutely no good can come from social workers being terrified of missing something, concerned about losing their jobs, and worried that they might become the next Sharon Shoesmith or the other named social work staff who received death threats from members of the public.

I started this blog with a joke, but the reality is, this is no laughing matter. We should perhaps return to the words that Everett Hughes used in 1951 and rather than concentrate on the term ‘dirty work’ and the concept of taintedness, instead look at the second half of the sentence and acknowledge that these are jobs that are ‘necessary for the survival of society’ and understand that a job of this importance needs the support of the people, not the mistrust.

About our blogger

Kristina has extensive freelance experience of working in mental health and criminal justice research. Read more. 

Trafficking: why it’s everyone’s business

Charlotte Bozic and Jill McAfee write about why working together and taking a child-centered approach is key to tackling child trafficking, following the ‘Child Trafficking: A Scottish Perspective’ conference.

On October 29, the Centre for Youth & Criminal Justice held a conference to raise awareness of trafficked children in Scotland and the practice issues of identification, assessment and support of potential victims.

Speakers at ‘Child Trafficking: A Scottish Perspective’ included Tam Baillie, Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People; Philip Ishola, CEO of the Counter Human Trafficking Bureau; Kirsty Thomson, Legal Services Agency; Detective Robin Veitch from Police Scotland’s National Human Trafficking Unit; Catriona MacSween, Aberlour Guardianship Project; Catherine Duggan, Child Protection Lead at the Scottish Government; and Sheila Murie, of Glasgow City Council’s Child Protection service. Beth Smith, Director of WithScotland, independently chaired the event.

It is estimated that 2,744 people, including 602 children, were potential victims of trafficking last year across the UK. Almost a third of the victims in Scotland suffered sexual exploitation, while others experienced labour exploitation and criminal exploitation. As the second biggest form of criminal activity, trafficking is an extremely lucrative business.

In 2012, the Scottish Parliament hosted a national summit on human trafficking that was attended by experts and policy makers from across the world. Recommendations came out of this event with multiagency sub groups set up to progress these. The progress of the subgroups was considered in June/July this year. We’re finally waking up to the fact that, as Tam Baillie put it, “trafficking is happening under our noses” and that action needs to be taken.

During the morning break, someone asked me why CYCJ had chosen to host this particular event. Robin Veitch answered this very question during his presentation. “Criminal exploitation” of young people is on the rise, therefore trafficking is not just an issue for those who work in child protection. Young people may first come to the attention of youth justice or criminal justice staff and it is everyone’s job to ensure that children are protected and supported from abuse – and trafficking of children is without a doubt child abuse.

All of the speakers emphasised the importance of agencies working together and sharing information to protect victims. Unfortunately, policy areas can work in silos, preventing true multiagency learning and working together. The diversity of the conference’s audience showed the commitment of CYCJ to bring practitioners together to share knowledge and expertise for the benefit of children and young people.

The UK was named as one of the top source areas for child trafficking, a fact that shocked everyone present. It is perhaps not surprising though, given the capacity to make vast amounts of money. For those perpetrating trafficking, this is a business. It might look slightly different in the UK from other countries in terms of the methods of manipulation and control, but the final result is the same across the world – traffickers exploiting more vulnerable people for their own means, and the complete disregard of the human rights of the victim.

Whilst trafficking is traumatic no matter what your age, children are more vulnerable, susceptible and compliant – making them the ideal victims for exploitation, particularly criminal. Many are sold into debt bondage, without understanding what is happening to them, and can often endure years of horror before they are rescued – if indeed they are rescued.

In some cases a young person’s first contact with the authorities is when they are arrested for criminal activity. The ‘victim’ label becomes ‘criminal’, which in turn becomes the most important thing about them. Instead of receiving the support they are so desperately in need of, they are given a prison sentence and then deported. They are children first and foremost – yet their needs are too often ignored by the professionals who are meant to be helping them.

That’s not down to incompetency or neglect. Part of the reason, as Tam Baillie admitted, is that it can be challenging as a practitioner to “keep up to speed with a slightly intimidating landscape, and to get your head round all the requirements of children who may be trafficked”.

Philip Ishola highlighted that as “seemingly complicated” as the issue might be, it doesn’t have to be “rocket science”. He praised everyone present: “The fact that you are in this room together is a clear message that there’s an intent to address this issue.”

He urged everyone to “respond with compassion” and reminded us that even the smallest action can make a huge difference on a global humanitarian scale. It may not lead to the answers, but it will certainly lead the way. He pointed out that whilst we talk about ‘child-centred’, we treat unaccompanied children differently to those in the UK, which he described as being “corrosive, destructive and undermining what we do”. He stressed that: “This is a child protection, child abuse issue. If you see the abuse, see the vulnerable child, you take action – as you always do.”

“Children should not be treated differently – if we follow that principle, there are no barriers,” he said, adding: “It’s a multiagency issue – there is no one agency that should be leading on this.”

The themes of Philip’s talk were echoed by the speakers that followed him, all of whom agreed on the importance of a multidisciplinary approach. Police Scotland have made all of their 17,5000 officers aware of what to do if they encounter a suspected trafficking case, and they are committed to following an investigation through, even if it leaves Scotland.  Catriona MacSween of the Aberlour  Guardianship project, which provides specialised support to young people who have been trafficked or are seeking asylum, told of how the service has impacted on Home Office decision making, whilst Sheila Murie talked about Glasgow City Council’s progressive vulnerable young person’s and child protection policy.

The day was packed with information, facts and discussion, and the final panel discussion could have been an event in itself.  Feedback from delegates was excellent, with praise for the “very interesting range of speakers”, “powerful presentations” and real concerns about the identification and assessment of trafficked children.

For me, the working together theme resonated strongly. Philip Ishola describes this as a “difficult time for humanity…help/support is critical”. As we all know, it’s not uncommon to open the paper and read about the discovery of a slave who has been living in someone’s basement for decades. Yet people’s desire ‘not to meddle’ can be stronger than their desire to act, even if they suspect something.

I suspect I wasn’t the only came who came away with a real desire to be that one individual who Philip Ishola claimed could make a difference.

View the presentations from this conference online.

Pictured: Philip Ishola and Tam Baillie. 

About our bloggers

Charlotte Bozic is Knowledge Exchange Officer for CYCJ. Jill McAfee is Practice Development Advisor, seconded from SCRA.

Bringing a message of hope

Debbie Nolan writes about a message of hope for prisoners, following this year’s Throughcare Conference:

I had the privilege of attending the ‘No Offence!’ Throughcare: getting it right conference at HMP & YOI Cornton Vale on October 22. I came to the event hopeful that this may herald a much needed and deserved focus on throughcare and opportunity to explore what we are currently, could, and should be doing if we are to optimise the potential for successful reintegration (and as Claire Lightowler, Director of CYCJ, rightfully recognised often integration for the first time) of those leaving custody and secure care into our communities. What I was not expecting was for hope to become such a theme of the day and I certainly left the conference with a number of hopes, some of which I will explore below.

Hope that we can address some of the barriers to employment. Employment was (another) major theme of the conference, identified by Catherine Bisset (Principle Researcher, Scottish Government Justice Analytical Services) as key in successful throughcare. Some positive examples were identified from the Evaluation of Greenock Prison Throughcare Project, the work of Recruit with Conviction, and the “No Offence Unlock Your Future” key that is used on job advertisements to indicate that this employer will consider all applications on their merit as oppose to past. Kenny MacAskill (MSP Cabinet Secretary for Justice) also highlighted plans for a summit in partnership with the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) with employers in spring 2015 and encouraged all public sector employers to look at their own recruitment policy and practice in respect of those with a criminal conviction. However more is needed, with Catherine highlighting the importance of more opportunities for coordinated reaching-in to the prison environment. Richard Thomson (Director, Recruit with Conviction) also underlined the importance of the right job and employer, at the right time, and in the right place.

Hope that we can meet the need for stable and sustainable housing as a key element of throughcare. Catherine identified Home Office research has found that prisoners who have accommodation arranged on release are four times more likely to have employment, education or training arranged than those who do not have accommodation in place. It is clear housing is a complex issue, with Kenny MacAskill acknowledging this, and I hope (again!) that interested parties utilise his request for suggestions and solutions that can be discussed with COSLA and Recognised Social Landlords on how the lack of appropriate accommodation for people leaving custody can be addressed. The CYCJ will prepare a collective response and would welcome any suggestions that can be included in this response.

Hope that the scale of the revised vision, mission and direction for the SPS set out in the organisation review “Unlocking Potential” and presented by Ian Davidson (Director for Strategy and Innovation, SPS) is recognised and realised. I hope that the necessary time, support and training to achieve this is afforded throughout the SPS.

Hope that we can implement what the evidence tells us about what contributes to successful throughcare. This includes the importance of continuous long-term services combining support during sentence and as individuals return to the community, positive relationships with key workers, service user engagement, flexibility and resources to meet the individualised needs, and communication and coordination between different agencies and supports. None of this is new information but we all have a role in implementing and achieving this.

Hope that we all recognise our role not just as professionals but as individuals and members of society to open up discussions about the needs and experiences of those who have offended. Utilising James Horton’s quote “hurt people hurt people” highlighted by Graham Golden (Chief Inspector, Violence Reduction Unit) seems a good way of doing so.  Likewise, we need to continue to make evidence available that can challenge society’s perception of crime as the statistics provided by Claire Lightowler (Director, CYCJ) illustrated in respect of youth offending (Claire’s presentation is available here). In addition, I hope that the Redemption and Justice Awards will be introduced in Scotland in 2015, with such events challenging the usual negativity and stigma surrounding those involved in offending and offer an opportunity often for the first time for positive recognition. The importance of this and the associated sense of hope (see I told you it was a theme!) was summed up with Sue Clifford (Chief Executive, No Offence!) using the quote from Steve Duncan “Hope is the drug every offender needs”.

Hope that I can work through the list the length of my arm of people I met at the conference who I intend to email for more information on their organisations!

Lastly, I hope that the women prisoners who attended the conference, and in Pete White’s (Positive Prisons? Positive Futures….) focus group, shared their experiences and challenged the SPS staff on the realities of prison life from a prisoner perspective, and gain throughcare support on leaving prison that learns the lessons from this Conference.

About our blogger

Debbie Nolan is a Practice Development Associate with CYCJ. Since 2004 she has worked with vulnerable and marginalised children and young people across sectors and in various roles. Read more. 


The life and times of a PhD student

Fern Gillon, who is working with CYCJ as part of her research into diverting young people from crime, shares what it’s like to embark on a PhD in this funny and honest blog.

Where to start? I have every book titled, “how to…PhD/Postgrad study” but week one and two have still been a bit of a whirlwind.  I must admit I find myself asking how I’ve got to this stage considering I wanted to leave school in fourth year to become a tattoo artist (something I will pursue in retirement!).

I asked my head of department for a reference, in which he described my time at uni as having “exit velocity”. Every time I read it I envisaged my wee face being catapulted across university campus, [into] mountains of books and dissertations. I went to university interested and intrigued; however, the more knowledge I accumulated the more I questioned what to do with it – that is until I undertook my first research project. In a class called ‘Community Links’, the module leader told us cheerfully: ‘by the end you’ll know if you love or hate research’. I undertook qualitative research with young people on their opinions and experiences of stop and search. I loved it, got the bug and wanted to know how you could do this ‘for real’. Research made sense, it linked all the random information I had been gathering by reading and observing and gave it a point. It gave it a purpose. And I loved it.

And here we are at the PhD (always mindful that what goes up must come down!) Excitement and nerves are in equal proportion which I think hope is understandable at this time. It’s early days (week 1/156) but there is so much I am looking forward to and want to share with, well, anyone who is willing to listen!

And then there is the project…

The project will look at the role of multi-agency early intervention projects in diverting young people from crime. It’s a mixed-methods project which will utilise data (which means I need to master the dreaded SPSS) and qualitative information from both practitioners and young people as I feel strongly that young people should be present in research conducted on services and structures which affect them.  At the heart of the project is collaboration: with Sacro, leading early intervention provider; and the Centre for Youth & Criminal Justice. I fully acknowledge that enthusiasm doesn’t make up for years of practice experience and intuition, however, this research hopes (with all its heart) to be useful, utilised and have impact. I have a lot of ideas (which I dare not declare on the World Wide Web until my supervisor has seen them) and genuine enthusiasm for this subject and pursing research.

I hope to have more to say very soon… and hopefully CYCJ will let me blog again when that time comes. But until that point I’d welcome feedback, advice, wine…

Photo posed by model.

Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman…but it’s also hard to be a man

In the midst of a growing focus on girls and young women, Nina Vaswani warns against excluding boys and young men from ‘gender issues’ in society. 

It was good to hear Morning Call on Radio Scotland earlier this week, in response to the International Day of the Girl Child on October 11, debate the issue of whether there is too much of a focus on girls and women today and whether it is time to talk about boys.

Don’t get me wrong, I think that the issues facing girls and young women at home and around the world are considerable: sexual exploitation, domestic violence, sexual assault, rape, genital mutilation, discrimination, inequality in pay, a criminal justice system designed around the needs of males.  The list goes on…these are all issues that often stem from a society that historically, or still too often at present, has been male-dominated and, of course, it’s quite right that there has been an increased focus on the needs of women given these social and cultural contexts.

But without trying to diminish the importance, or the hideousness, of the issues facing females, I do worry that when we talk about ‘gender-based’ issues but we really mean ‘female’ issues, we are only considering half of the problem.  With men blamed for so many of society’s ills, surely it’s essential that males are given the opportunity to be part of the solution to this problem?  These issues won’t go away until men (but also society as a whole) change, and simply focusing on females will not facilitate this process.

In some ways, and in this country at least, boys can be viewed as getting a raw deal right throughout the life course.  Boys are more likely to be born prematurely and are at higher risk of death and disability as a result.  Boys go on to be more likely to suffer from Autistic Spectrum Disorder; to have a diagnosed learning disability; to perform more poorly throughout school and to be less likely to go on to university.  More alarmingly, hazardous alcohol use is implicated in the deaths of almost one-third of males aged 15 to 29 in the developed world, and suicide is now the leading cause of death among young men aged 20 to 49 in the UK.  This discrepancy continues until old age, with a report published by Independent Age in the same week documenting the increasing isolation and loneliness of older men, compared to their female peers.

Why might this be the case? I have previously written about male vulnerability and the gender-gap help-seeking, and how a reluctance or an inability to seek help for emotional, practical or physical problems until things reach crisis point leaves males open to prolonged suffering.  This suffering can cause males to act out in ways which mask their emotions, such as displays of anger or frustration, leading to their behaviour rather than the underlying feelings being addressed.  No wonder so many young males end up excluded from school, or filling the nation’s prisons.  To highlight, when I interviewed young men in Polmont about their bereavements it became clear that they were expressing their pain in maladaptive ways: “Like I don’t think I would be here if my Gran didnae die because my behaviour kinda changed, I’d no been in prison before but after my Gran died everything got worse just from there, I just started drinking a lot more and I drink every day now basically.”

So what can be done?  On Morning Call, Alice Thomson (a Times journalist) thought that we might erroneously assume that boys are doing better in society than females, as has been the case in the past, and therefore they become to some extent ‘neglected’.  Maybe then simply refocusing on gender in its truest sense will help rebalance our approach to males and females?

Other callers suggested that parents, in particular fathers, need to be role-models to their sons (and daughters).  Certainly the young men I spoke to in Polmont took their cue about how to act from their fathers: “I mean I’ve never seen my dad cry…when ma Granda died I didn’t see him greet, when ma Gran died I didn’t see him greet.  I spose I’ve just always kinda held back myself as well, rather than talk about things…”  Given that gender differences in help-seeking emerge from around the age of three, supporting parents, early education providers and society as a whole to model appropriate behaviours and to stem the reinforcement of gender stereotypes is crucial.

This reluctance to talk was also raised by callers to the show, with some believing that males didn’t want to share things that were bothering them.  We certainly need to make sure our services are responsive to males, for example by not relying so much on ‘talking therapies’, or by finding ways to make these approaches more acceptable to males.  The young men in my bereavement study didn’t really like talking about their emotions, but did seem to derive some benefit in telling stories of their loved ones that took more of a biographical narrative rather than dwelling on their pain: “It’s actually been really good, see even just this, just answering a few questions, speaking about it, bringing back up some of the memories and stuff you know.”

Whatever the solution, let’s not stop focusing on girls but let’s also focus on young men. That way we may be able to really tackle gender issues in society.

About our blogger

Nina is Research Fellow with CYCJ. In addition to youth justice, her many research interests include bereavement, loss and trauma, the vulnerability of young males and violence. Read more. 


Pulling together for girls

Our latest guest blogger Gail Wilson, of charity Up-2-Us, calls for a change in attitudes and focus towards girls, following the recent ‘Pulling together for girls’ event.

Up-2-Us recently put on an event to profile the needs of high risk and vulnerable girls and young women and to get our partners and other interested individuals talking about how we can work better to meet the challenges they face.

The day was insightfully chaired by Tam Baillie Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People and began with an opening input from the Cabinet Secretary for Justice Kenny MacAskill about the Scottish Government’s commitment to ending violence towards girls and women with the 2014 Equally Safe strategy.

CEO of Up-2-Us Olive Arens, Time for Change workers and young women made an illustrated personal presentation of the issues they experienced. Nora read a poem she’d written about living away from home and how she missed her mum the most, Kayleigh wrote about her unstable housing – going from unit to unit, from secure to secure and ending up homeless, and Lisa told us about her struggles with drugs and her goals for the future. Chief Inspector Graham Goulden for the Violence Reduction Unit highlighted the need to change male perspectives about women and toxic stereotyping, while Scottish Prison Service Unit Manager Linda Kincaid represented young women who are cyclically trapped in prison by lack of support for their multiple needs both there and in the community. Together with young woman Kimberley, I presented on mental health, from Kimberly’s and an agency perspective.

After these inputs over 100 delegates shared views of the main challenges facing high risk girls and young women. They spoke about lack of resources, for instance lack of services outwith 9 to 5 hours and for those at transitional stages between child and adult services, difficulty in engaging with ‘young people’ and between agencies; sexist and punishment centred societal culture; and poor access to mental health services.

After lunch Professor Michele Burman and Dr Susan Batchelor for SCCJR at the University of Glasgow reviewed the research about girls. Highlights included the call for a gendered and age specific approach to Youth Justice, but not allowing girls to be defined by their needs and deeds; and the danger of medicalising young women’s issues.

Group discussion moved on to find solutions to the previously identified challenges. General themes emerging were: the consistency of the relationship between worker and young woman; more training with input from young women themselves; flexible and accessible services particularly in health and support 24/7; commitment to resources for such services; better multiagency working to improve communication and coordination; parent and family support to promote early intervention; improved post 16 support for those accommodated; and more understanding of transitions between child and adult services, making the most out of alternatives to remand and short sentence in using the Children’s Hearing System to its full potential.

David Orr for CYCJ concluded the day aptly. He began by reiterating part of Tam Baillie’s introduction about how traumatising it is to have your life story repeated in review meetings or with new workers. He liked Sam’s ‘busy bee’ presentation in the morning about residential workers and felt hopeful about the role the new Children & Young Persons Act has in reinforcing how lived experiences can and should continue to contribute to the development of future policies.

What I took from the day was the atmosphere for change, the keenness of those attending to be informed and work with colleagues across agencies to keep girls out of prison and provide the intensive and flexible services they need. There was a lot of talk about early intervention, but I think we need to be careful that we don’t forget the minority group whose day to day reality and life chances are already poor. They need time and support in the moments of chaos and despair in order to encourage success in good moments too.

A reference to ‘Gale is dead’ by Olive in the morning reminded us that change in attitudes and values approaches is overdue.  What I found was that in a day about girls, many struggled to keep the focus on girls.  The day was not about excluding boys and while solutions for all is no doubt helpful it somewhat misses the point. High risk and vulnerable girls are already overlooked because of their numbers, so if we want to advocate for their gendered and age specific needs, we need to be more conscious of our words and speak about ‘girls’ and not ‘young people’.

About our blogger

Gail Wilson is Research & Policy Officer for the Up-2-Us. This girls and young women initiative is about the challenges and solutions of working with very high risk and vulnerable girls and young women and creating a platform for their voices to be heard by services, funders and politicians.

Beijing’s caring legacy

Graham Connelly reflects on China’s family culture, and how care is reciprocated across the generations.  

I’m currently spending a month travelling in China with a China-born prominent member of the Glasgow Chinese community. For me, this ‘gap month’ was planned as an exciting way of marking the transition between full-time work and beginning a phase-in to my eventual retirement. For my friend, it’s an opportunity to share with me the culture of his childhood in China and to see the continuing momentous changes taking place in this vast and diverse country.

Walking back to our hotel at night in Beijing, I came across a mural on a wall. The mural featured a set of panels, each one with an image evoking a moral tale, such as, don’t waste food, work hard, love your country. The one I’ve selected here seemed particularly appropriate to the theme of our blog. It shows an adult – perhaps a teacher, or parent, or carer – encouraging a child in what could be school homework. Apart from the obvious message of valuing education, the main moral point being made here is that when the adult demonstrates care for the child, that devotion will be reciprocated in a society that cares for its elders.

Respect for older people is an important value in Chinese culture, but the traditions are being challenged by the obvious changes taking place in China. I had a chance meeting in Beijing with a Chinese national, now resident in California, and representing a firm providing training for staff in care homes. She told me that more Chinese elderly are living in group care as working patterns in the new China make it difficult for extended families to live together in the traditional way. The signs of acquisitiveness are everywhere, but so are the obvious differences in wealth apparent. You only have to look at a road in any city to see this demonstrated in the sights of Porches, Mercedes and BMWs, with horns honking as they fight for road space with ancient bicycles and motorised rickshaws.

About our blogger

Graham Connelly is senior lecturer in the School of Social Work and Social Policy at the University of Strathclyde. 

Five Nations and the complexity of youth justice

Carole Dearie attended the 2014 Five Nations Conference, held in Cardiff. Here she talks about complexity, youth justice and why we’re still not getting it right for the girls…

The theme of the Five Nations Conference held in Cardiff was ‘Understanding Complexity: the challenge for Youth Justice’.  The First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones (Prif Weinidog Cymru) set the scene for the conference with his opening speech on progress and challenges facing the Welsh Government.   He made sure to point out that challenges are better faced when we do them together.  When we share knowledge and ideas, the complexities are perhaps less challenging and less taunting when there is a shared optimism and vision for getting it right.

Claire Lightowler, Director for Centre for Youth & Criminal Justice, was tasked with providing input on how Scotland is meeting this challenge.  Claire’s presentation, aptly named ‘It’s complicated’, provided statistics on offending in Scotland and introduced the audience to the new initiative in the much needed mental health provision, the IVY clinic. Reference was made to the findings of the Edinburgh Study of Youth Transition and Crime that commenced in 1998 and concluded in 2003.  Although concluded over a decade ago, the key findings remain relevant today.  Links between key issues such as mental health and violent offending may not have come as a surprise to many, if not all, the audience.  It is nonetheless imperative that this continues to be highlighted and it must find a place in understanding key themes that emerge as being associated with offending behaviour.

The study gave a key message that I was left contemplating, and led me to wonder how many people who work with young offenders embrace the notion that ‘those involved in violent offending were the most vulnerable and victimised’.  How many professionals would look for this to be a significant factor in understanding the causation of the behaviour?  Not to excuse the violent behaviour but to explain it surely is a challenge all professionals should rise to.  However, does this ideology of the offender being a vulnerable victim fit in with youth justice? 

A present day nature versus nurture argument was presented by Professor Gordon Harold of the University of Sussex,who researched the influence, if any, that genetics could have on the behaviour of young people.  Which has the greatest impact on behaviour – being brought up by biological parents, or being adopted/conceived through IVF? The findings concluded that there was no genetic link and that the environment and behaviours were influenced by those around you.  For the qualified Social Workers amongst the audience I’m sure the work of Social Learning Theorist Albert Bandura resonated.

Workshops on key themes ran throughout the day and the manner in which the event was organised allowed for the participants to attend all workshops.  They ranged from being very interesting and relevant to the theme of the conference, to being almost an ‘add on’ to fill a space.  Overall, they were fairly good.

I cannot write this blog without drawing attention to the glaring absence in both workshops and in presentations of keynote speakers of research or interventions with vulnerable girls/high risk young women.   The voices of girls found no significant place at the conference.   Although two workshops that focused on working with girls were both useful to some degree, neither workshop left me feeling that the subject of girls has finally found equal placing with boys.  Not for the first time in my career was I left to question why girls continue to be underrepresented.  Yes,  I am constantly informed that perhaps it’s due to the ‘relatively small’ numbers of girls compared to boys which results in more of a focus being on the male gender.  That said, Rotherham had 1400 girls, and counting, who were sexually, physically and emotionally abused and I cannot accept for the sake of girls that they are continually overlooked on the basis that there are not enough of them.  Let’s place the agenda of vulnerable girls in its rightful place at future conferences and events and give them equal representation so that we can work together in meeting their needs.

And finally, the message from the Five Nations Conference was consistent in one aspect and that is understanding the complexity of the challenge of youth justice is indeed complex in itself, and is better approached with a shared vision and commitment to getting it right for every child.

About our blogger

Carole Dearie is seconded to CYCJ from the Good Shepherd Centre, where she is Depute Head.  She has been working in residential child care for over 23 years, and holds a Diploma in Social Work and Post Graduate Diploma in Advanced Residential Child Care. Read more.

Increasing hope for young people in secure care

Our Research Associate Kristina Moodie was inspired by the From Research into Practice symposium, held at the Good Shepherd Centre in Renfrewshire. 

I recently attended a very positive, one might even say hopeful,  symposium at the Good Shepherd Centre.

In an ideal world obviously no young person would be placed in secure care, but at a time of real trauma and disruption for the young person and their families or caregivers, the Good Shepherd have been working hard to improve the life chances of those young people who find themselves there.

The staff at the Centre have been designing an outcome framework that they felt needed to be relatively simple to complete but that also provides a depth of data and measurable change, so issues or problems could be quickly identified for the young people and staff. They were also keen that measurable changes across many variables, either positive or negative, should be visually informative.

Keynote speaker Dr David Burton from Smith College, Massachusetts, made use of this data, and took us through the measurable outcome changes in the young people from when they arrived.  He also looked at the similarities and differences of the young people in the Good Shepherd to comparable young people in the US and much to the surprise of many in the audience, it seems that those young people at the Good Shepherd are in much greater need with higher delinquency, depression and impulsivity.

The Good Shepherd uses the eight SHANARRI well-being domains but has added the additional domain of HOPE.  This will be measured alongside other outcomes and a programme of intervention is being written that will aim to increase HOPE for young people.

Tom Laurie, Education Manager and Louise Morrison, Head of Care walked us through the ‘Outcomes Framework’ and introduced us to one of the young people who had been in the Good Shepherd for nearly a year. In addition to speaking with great honesty and clarity about his situation and where he came from he gave us a first-hand account of how the self-assessment aspect of the Framework worked for him.

Attendees had to work for their delicious lunch, however, and a large hallway was turned into a poster session with SHANARRI outcome measures and possible next steps to improve how the Centre works towards those over the next year, two years and three years.   Fortified by lunch and with the addition of post-it notes, coloured dots and some very lively discussion, we made our way into the afternoon session, which detailed some of the interventions and techniques used to treat issues such as PTSD, aggression and traumatic pasts many of the young people present with.

Stuart Mulholland, Director of Welltree Ltd, closed the day and summed up all we had learned. With that, we all went back to our various agencies and responsibilities and in my case, thinking about what hope means for all of us.

About our blogger

Kristina has extensive freelance experience of working in mental health and criminal justice research. Read more.

A young person’s tale

Kate* is a 28 year old who would like a career in youth justice.  She was involved in offending between the ages of 14 to 27, and was first convicted at the age of 18. Kate is currently working with CYCJ to share her experiences and reflections on the youth justice system, via blog posts and podcasts.

I have been working in the Centre for Youth & Criminal Justice for several weeks now, and I can’t believe how much I have learnt already.

I can feel my self-confidence grow every day; for the first time in my life, I have a feeling of self-worth. I feel like I have finally found what I am meant to be doing with myself and that’s to be involved in youth justice. I knew when I started to turn my life around that I had a lot to offer young people but wasn’t sure how best to use my lived experiences.  The Centre is helping me realise more of my potential and reach my goals.

I feel like I have been handed the keys to a big secret about a place I never knew existed. Just watching how dedicated and passionate everyone is at their jobs is amazing. Although everyone in here has different jobs, they all have the same goal and that’s to help change the future of kids and young people in Scotland, kids that nobody gets to hear about, kids just the same as me when I was growing up, kids with worse upbringings and problems than me.

I sit at my desk and just watch and listen to the people in the office – how they speak about their work and the young people they are involved with is really phenomenal to see. I have been particularly inspired greatly by one member of staff, whom I heard on the phone fighting for one of her young people. She was refusing to give up on this person and that’s exactly what young people need – someone to fight their corner when the rest of the world is giving up on them. She is a legend in my eyes and I’m sure I will learn a lot from her, and others.

I sometimes feel that any minute security is going to come and escort me out the building, like I’m not supposed to be here.  Seventeen months ago, I was just starting a probation order and my life was upside down, which left me struggling with how I felt about myself and what I had to offer.  Here, everyday someone reassures my doubts as they are really keen to speak to me and get my opinion on stuff and what I would do in certain scenarios.

With the Centre, I feel part of something amazing – everyone buzzes off each other and the team work is amazing. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for me here.

*Name has been changed

Image posed for by model.