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Blog: Secure Care Pathway and Standards - What do they mean for Panel Members?

The Secure Care Pathway and Standards Scotland (referred to as Pathway and Standards) were launched in October 2020. The Standards, for the first time, set out what all children in or on the edges of secure care should expect across the continuum of intensive supports and services. They provide a framework for ensuring rights are respected and improving experiences and outcomes for these children. The pathway follows a child’s journey before, during and after a stay in secure care and are written from the child’s perspective. 

The Standards are rooted in children’s voices and experiences, having been fully co-produced with children and young people in and with experience of secure care. The Pathway is made up of 44 Standards focusing on the areas that these children and young people detailed were the most important to them and had the greatest impact on their experiences. A wealth of associated materials have been developed to raise awareness and aid understanding of the Standards including a website fully co-designed with children in secure care and capturing their voices, workshops, information sheets, blogs, postcards, pocket-sized standards and posters.

Why are the Standards important for Panel Members?

The Pathway and Standards apply to all individuals and agencies supporting these children, with the Standards particularly relevant to decision makers - and that includes Panel members. Moreover, if the Standards are to achieve their aims of improving the experiences and providing better outcomes for children and young people, they must be fully implemented, which requires the involvement of all agencies that children may come into contact with on their journey. Extensive work is underway across Scotland, aligned with the Promise and responses to other significant developments and investigations affecting children in or on the edges of secure care, to implement the Standards. Panel members have a crucial role not just in implementing the Standards in their own practice and contact with children in and on the edges of secure care, but also in monitoring the implementation of the Standards more widely for children attending Hearings.

So what can I do?

Throughout the co-production of the Standards we heard a lot about children’s experiences in or on the edges of secure care and this includes their experiences of children’s hearings. These voices give real suggestions for how children’s experiences of hearings can be improved, along with suggestions for how implementation can be supported by Panel members:

Listen to me

Central throughout the Standards is the importance of ensuring children’s rights to be heard and to be fully involved in and influence decisions and plans about their care and support in a way that works for them. Ensuring that you really hear the child and involve them in your decision-making in a manner that works for them is key. In doing so, it is important that children’s rights to legal advice, representation and high-quality independent advocacy before, during and after any decision-making processes are upheld. Panel members have a crucial role in ensuring children are aware of and have access to these supports when making decisions regarding secure accommodation.  

Understand me

“I totally kicked off in the panel, I was really angry. I got restrained and that and it was the same three panel members at the next one! I was like, no way! But they were OK; they didn’t judge me, they could see I’d changed”

Children in or on the edges of secure care are often experiencing extreme needs, risks and vulnerabilities in their lives. Understanding the impact of any trauma and difficulties the child has experienced and responding to their needs and behaviours sensitively is a key Standard. All behaviour is communication and it is important that Panel Members understand this, and can practice in a trauma-informed manner in hearings. Although a child may only be seen at a panel for a short period of time, children perceive that you are powerful people in their lives by virtue of the decisions you can make.

And help me to understand

“Have secure care explained as a warning rather than a threat”

Too often children reported being uninformed and unprepared for their placement in secure care. For many children, secure care was something that they had often been “threatened” with for some time. They said that it was beneficial to them to understand why secure care was being considered; the possible outcomes of a hearing; the reasons for any decision to restrict their liberty; what their rights are and how these would be upheld during their stay in secure care; and what they could expect in secure care. Panel members have a particular role here in how they explain the opinions available to them; explain and record their decisions; the reasons for these; and help children to understand their rights, including any right of appeal. It is important this information is provided sensitively, recognising that often children will be at a point of crisis in their lives, using age and stage appropriate language, and in a way that children understand. It is also necessary for panel members to have a good understanding of what alternatives to secure care are; what secure care is, can offer and the restrictions this brings; the potential impacts of being placed in secure care; and children’s rights. The STARR group, Scotland’s only curated space for secure care experienced children, young people and adults, is passionate about helping everyone to understand the lifelong impact of being placed in secure care.

Have all the information you need to make a decision

Children and young people explained the importance of knowing and feeling confident that decision-makers had the necessary information and fully considered their needs, rights, views and risks of harm for them and others in making decisions. Often when children are in or on the edges of secure care, concerns about needs and risks are understandably the dominant concern. However, children also wanted decisions and plans to be informed by their hopes, strengths, achievements and goals. In making decisions, it is important panel members have access to this broad range of information and if this is not available, find creative methods to seek to access this. In some cases, safeguarders can have an important role.

Access to the support I need

“Secure shouldn’t be for everyone - everything else should be tried first”

Throughout a child’s journey before, during or after a stay in secure care, panel members have an important role in exploring how services and supports provided to children or that could be provided as part of any order are contributing to a child’s outcomes. Under Article 37(b) of the UNCRC “No child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily. The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time”. When considering a secure accommodation authorisation, panel members must give full consideration of the law, including that the child meets the secure care criteria, and of other options available, including a Movement Restriction Condition. While panel members cannot commission services, it is important they are aware of and consider what community-based alternatives are available locally, as well as how these can be utilised creatively, and are confident that having considered these, a secure accommodation authorisation is necessary. It is important that children know this has taken place and that these discussions and decisions are fully explained to the child and recorded.

When a child is preparing to move on from a stay in secure care, preparation, choice, pace and continuity of support and relationships is at the heart of the Standards. There are potential tensions around a child moving on from secure care at a pace at which they are completely ready with the need to ensure that the child continues to meet the secure care criteria and that a secure accommodation authorisation remains necessary. In such instances, the above suggestions on listening, understanding, utilising available information and understanding of supports will be crucial.

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