Young People’s Perspectives on Complaints in the Secure Estate

Young People’s Perspectives on Complaints

This report, entitled “Why are they going to listen to me?”, provides an overview of a consultation undertaken by User Voice on young people’s perspectives on the complaints system in the youth justice system and secure estate.

It builds on a similar project  undertaken by User Voice in 2010 for the Youth Justice Board (YJB) and the Office of the Children’s Commissioner (OCC).

This consultation formed a significant strand of our wider youth engagement project called What’s Your Story 2011. The OCC commissioned User Voice to specifically seek the views of children and young people within the youth justice system about their experience of the complaints system.

By combining these two projects User Voice were able to include a larger sample group, and involve young people from across the full spectrum of youth justice services all over England and Wales.

This report outlined the findings from a survey of 740 young people who were or had been involved with the following Youth Justice services:

  • Secure Children’s Homes
  • Secure Training Centres
  • Young Offenders Institutions
  • Youth Offending Team Supervision

The young people who took part in this survey were then offered the opportunity to discuss their experiences of the youth justice system further in a focus group. 34 focus groups were held across 28 services, and a total of 150 young people took part.

The facilitators of these focus groups were themselves former offenders, who had received induction training from User Voice, along with additional training on research and interview skills from Durham University.


  • 79% (568) of the people surveyed had wanted to make a complaint
  • 53 people actually made a complaint
  • 14 people were happy with the outcome
  • 38 people were unhappy with the outcome

In the focus groups the facilitators were able to gain more qualitative data about the complaints procedure. These discussions revealed that, although a majority of participants had wanted to make a complaint, many had chosen not to do so as they lacked confidence in the system as a means to resolving their problems or concerns.

People don’t really think about putting in a complaint, because they think that nothing is going to happen. Nothing does happen. That’s the thing. You just have to put up with everything.

Male, YOI


From this research we concluded that:

  • There appears to be much variation in how complaints are handled and whether young people have found responses to their complaints helpful or otherwise.
  • There is not necessarily a need for uniformity, but rather a need to ensure that the options are tailored to the differing needs of young people independent of where they find themselves in the CJS:

Nine times out of ten you don’t understand what they are saying in a letter.

  • There are clearly both cultural and bureaucratic barriers which prevent young people who wish to make a complaint from making one.
  • The introduction of independent advocacy services was broadly supported by most of the young people in the focus groups and those who had used them reported finding them useful.
  • Above all, young people valued positive relationships with staff whom they had found both approachable and responsive to their concerns or requests:

Most of us probably go to the same governor. She does a lot. She seems to fight our corner for us.

Male, YOI

Moving forward

On the 7th November 2012 some of the young people attended a roundtable discussing improving the complaints system for children and young people.

This was a great opportunity for User Voice and the young people to discuss the barriers outlined above which prevent them from being able to make a complaint.