News: Youth justice and mental health project update
20 December 2010
Sue Berelowitz, Deputy Children's Commissioner, is leading research into the mental health and emotional wellbeing of young people in the youth justice system. Informed by a group of professionals with expertise in juvenile justice and mental health, the project is linked to the National Advisory Council for Children's Mental Health and Psychological Wellbeing and National Advisory Group on the Mental Health of Offenders both of which Sue is a member. Here Sue outlines the project so far.
We are nearing the end of our year-long research project examining mental health provision for children and young people in the youth justice system, particularly in the secure estate.
There is powerful evidence to show that large numbers of children and young people who enter custody have significant mental health needs. Over half have suffered the traumatic loss or separation of a significant figure; 60% are likely to have suffered maltreatment; 60% have serious speech, language and communication needs; 50% have a learning difficulty; self-harm is endemic with nearly nine out every 10 girls in custody harming themselves and both boys and girls in prison are 18 times more likely to kill themselves than young people in the community. These are indeed troubled young people who need expert and specialist support and care.
Children's rights and the UNCRC
Our work in the field of youth justice and mental health is guided by an awareness of children's rights, as enshrined in the UNCRC. This project has particular regard to articles 3 (best interests of the child), 4 (protection of rights), 12 (respect for the views of the child), 24 (health), 37 (degrading treatment and deprivation of liberty) and 40 (juvenile justice). For more detailed information about these articles, please see the bottom of the page.
An extraordinary journey
This research project has been an extraordinary literal and metaphorical journey taking us to children's prisons all round the country. Using our powers of entry, we have visited:
two secure children's homes
two secure training centres
five young offender institutions - including one for young women
a secure adolescent mental health unit
a service providing multi systemic therapy
a specialist harmful sexual behaviours service
five youth offending teams
one of the two re-settlement consortia established under the Youth Crime Action Plan to support young people leaving custody.
We have spoken with both children and staff in all settings, gathering extraordinary and valuable evidence about the nature and levels of need and quality of services provided. In addition, we have run four focus groups with young people with a history of offending.
Some of the evidence we have uncovered has required us to take immediate action and report unacceptable practices to those in charge, such as overzealous and undignified strip-searching of young people and unhygienic environments. We are pleased that action has been taken to address all concerns resulting in improved conditions and treatment of young people in custody.
After a year's work, a clear picture is now emerging, based on evidence and the differential experiences and outcomes of those in the system, of how the secure estate for children and young people should be shaped and developed with their mental and emotional welfare in mind. The final report with recommendations will be published in spring 2011.
For more information
To find out more about our work in the area of youth justice, contact Denise Malcolm, Senior Communications Officer.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) sets out, the rights of every person under 18 and how these rights should be met. Our work is guided by the Convention, with articles 3 and 12 underpinning all that we do. The youth justice and mental health programme relates to a number of UNCRC articles, including (in summary):
Article 3 - (best interests of the child) - the best interests of the child must be a top priority in all actions concerning children.
Article 12 - (respect for the views of the child) - every child has a right to say what they think in all matters affecting them, and to have their views taken seriously.
Article 24 - (health and health services) - every child has the right to the best possible health.
Article 37 - (detention and punishment) - No child shall be tortured or suffer other cruel treatment or punishment. A child shall only ever be arrested or put in prison as a last resort and for the shortest possible time.
Article 40 - (juvenile justice) - a child accused or guilty of breaking the law must be treated with dignity and respect. The child's privacy must be respected at all times.
You can view a summary of the UNCRC articles here, provided by UNICEF.