In July, I visited Oakhill Secure Training Centre in Milton Keynes to talk to the children and young people who live there about their lives. It is central to my statutory role to hear from all children, particularly those who are living in some form of institution rather than in a family.
I believe that everyone working with children should talk to children living in a setting such as this. They have often seen more of the statutory support services than those of us who work on them will ever know.
From education to the police and criminal justice system, from children’s social care to mental health services: these are children who have experienced what services for children really look like in our country. Too often, they also can tell you about the times that they have been let down by those services and adults in them whose job it is to keep them safe.
While there, I was very pleased to talk to young person who had sat 22 exams for his GCSEs while at Oakhill. However, many of the children in the youth justice system have not had good relationship with education. I talked to a 15-year-old boy about his experience with school before he was in Oakhill. He told me that “school was never good” and that he had been largely absent from education from when he was in primary school. He said:
“I went to a PRU. We didn’t do any education…just activities. It was just fighting and stuff”.Boy, aged 15.
I also talked to the young people about what they wanted to see happen to make a difference in children’s lives. I heard lots of ideas relating to education, the cost of living, and racism to name a few. One young person said something that stuck with me:
“CAMHS and social services should give kids time. Don’t just make a decision based on what’s on the piece of paper […] understand their trauma. […] Better mental health services for children inside and out. […] Nothing is as important as that”.Young man, aged 18.
I have previously written about my serious concerns about safety and conditions in the youth secure estate. My team recently visited HMYOI Cookham Wood where the children spoke about a chaotic regime, poor education, weapons being commonplace, and a culture where staff couldn’t protect them.
Last year, I pointed out many of these concerning issues in the youth secure estate in my Family Review. It’s time for change and reform now so that these children can grow up to be happy and successful adults, who contribute to society. I want the Government to urgently deliver on a new vision for children in custody to ensure they get the education and care they need.