Study: Chief Social Workers and secure care

Date: 13th June 2017
Category: Family Environment and Alternative Care

A ground-breaking study by the Centre for Youth & Criminal Justice (CYCJ) has highlighted the current issues, challenges and opportunities for Chief Social Work Officers working with young people in, and on the edges of, secure care.

The study, conducted through in-depth interviews with 21 out of 32 local authorities, focused on perceptions of secure care by Chief Social Work Officers (CSWOs), and of CSWOs' and local authority approaches to the use of secure care in Scotland.

Key findings include:

  • CSWOs had differing perceptions of secure care and whether it is felt to be a protective or punitive response to troubled young people
  • The need for improved knowledge and awareness of the secure care centres by CSWOs
  • The pressure CSWOs find themselves under when determining whether to implement a secure order, against the context of extremely vulnerable and traumatised young people
  • Lack of clarity as to the current and future purpose, and efficacy, of secure care
  • The need for ongoing dialogue around use, function and perceptions of secure care

Alan Baird, former Chief Social Work Adviser to the Scottish Government, said:

"I was very interested to read this important piece of work on an area which has been the subject of discussions by local authority CSWOs over many years due to the complexities, challenges and responsibilities placed on local authorities to ensure the safety and protection of Scotland's most vulnerable young people. It is valuable to see for the first time a piece of research which addresses important considerations, including the fundamentals of what the purpose of secure care should or should not be from the perspective of CSWOs.

"In my view this report highlights many of the current issues and challenges faced across systems and services in relation to very high risk and vulnerability. It also presents opportunities for CSWOs, as well as secure care providers, and professionals working with young people in and on the edges of secure care, to work together to break down barriers in understanding and so build more effective partnerships to help meet the needs of some of our most troubled young people."

Claire Lightowler, Director of CYCJ, said:

"Our intention was to shine a light on this highly vulnerable group of children and young people, and the decision-making processes and systems that bring them into secure care, the most restrictive and intense form of care available. We wanted to start a dialogue about secure care and how it's being used across local authority areas, and I think we have achieved this.

"There are some strong messages coming out of this work, and the findings and recommendations call for better practice and knowledge exchange across CSWOs and local authority areas, and Health and Social Care Partnerships. They highlight gaps in how some young people are supported pre-admission, at admission, and during a secure care placement and afterwards, and a need for improved knowledge and understanding about the current secure care centres across the CSWOs."

The qualitative study was undertaken to further explore some of the questions which were raised about decision making, risk thresholds and routes into and on from secure care, by a scoping study undertaken by CYCJ in 2015. The research was also conducted to complement the work of the Secure Care National Project, which reported on key messages and calls for action from the project in November 2016.