Secure care census finds ‘concerning’ prevalence of past childhood trauma

A survey of all children in secure care in Scotland has found that nearly three quarters had been exposed to four or more traumatic experiences prior to entering secure care.

28/05/21

Secure care census finds ‘concerning’ prevalence of past childhood trauma

The level of exposure to Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) experienced by children in Scotland’s secure care estate has increased, according to a ‘secure care census’.

The census, conducted by the Children and Young People’s Centre for Justice (CYCJ), found that three in four (74%) children surveyed had been exposed to at least four ACEs prior to entering secure care – up from 64% in the recorded in the previous census.

The census also found an increase in the number of 16- and 17-year-old children in secure care.

Even greater levels of exposure to trauma were found amongst those children who lived in relative poverty, with 86% of children having been exposed to four or more ACEs.

Children placed in secure care by a Scottish local authority experienced on average 4.92 ACEs. For children from English and Welsh local authorities, however, this was even higher having been exposed to an average of 6.38 ACEs.

For the first time, the census included data for the distance children in secure care were placed from their families. More than 3 in 10 of those placed by a Scottish local authority were placed more than 50 miles from their family home, and almost seven in ten children from England and Wales were placed more than 300 miles away from families.

This is particularly significant as authors say relationships – especially within the family – were a key strengths children enjoyed and could be a source of resilience and support.

The authors of the report are also calling for a systematic response to the “pandemic of poverty”, after more than a third of children in secure care believed to be living in relative poverty.

Ross Gibson, author of the report, said the heightened rates of ACEs amongst the secure care population was “concerning”.

“Not only does this call on prevention and recovery services to be prioritised, it is a stark reminder of the challenges that await the child and their family when attempting to achieve a smooth transition into the community following secure care,” Gibson said, adding: “These findings are also a reminder that provision of comprehensive and robust levels of care within the secure environment must be followed by equally robust yet responsive provision once the child is ready to move on.”

Bruce Adamson, Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland, said the census “paints a concerning picture” of continued failure to properly support families and address issues such as poverty and education inequality.

“Placing child in secure care is one of the most significant interferences with a child’s rights that the state can make. The decision to take a child away from family and community and deprive them of their liberty must only be done when it is in the child’s best interest, as a last resort and for the shortest period possible. The issues raised in this study aren’t new, but the timing of this study is an important reminder of how much more there is to do.”

Adamson also welcomed the inclusion of data on the distances some children were being placed from their families, saying this “has a huge impact on the respect for family life.”

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