User Voice report on young people secure estate highlights drug use and lack of trust

Founder Mark Johnson criticises system for obsession with containment and avoiding dealing with priority issues such as emotional wellbeing

A new report by User Voice highlights the plight of young people inhabiting the Children and Young People Secure Estate – which is made up of Secure Children’s Homes, Secure Training Centres and Youth Offender Institutions.

NitCovCommissioned by NHS England, which has responsibility for health and wellbeing matters in the estate, User Voice employed its peer-led research approach to elicit the views of some of the  hardest-to-reach people in the criminal justice system. We undertook focus groups, surveys and interviews ultimately reaching around 200 of the approximately 1,000 inhabitants.

The project was inspired by the various threats posed by the escalating use of NPS/formerly legal highs in the adult prison estate and the need to understand how NPS affects younger people. What emerged though, was an insight in a much broader sense into the isolation, lack of trust and coping drug use of these highly vulnerable young people.

Some of the results are truly shocking: 85% of the young people had used drugs, mainly, they told us, to deal with grief and anger: “Isn’t that why all people take drugs, to suppress feelings and escape the real world! Easy way to cope with reality,” was how one participant summed it up. But they were not alone in expressing this view.

Similarly shocking was the 75% of respondents who said they trusted no professional involved in their care. They claimed they didn’t trust staff because the information they gave was shared with others who then used it to make decisions: “Can’t go anywhere for help because all they will do is write stuff down and use it against you,” one said. “I’ve been let down in the care system so many times it is hard to trust,” said another.

This lack of trust extended to other residents as well: “You can’t share information [with fellow residents] … they risk assess and then you have to be away from each other.”

For User Voice founder Mark Johnson this is a depressingly familiar refrain: “These kids are seriously stressed, they have no one to trust and turn to drugs to cope. It’s a ticking timebomb.

“Many people have already joined the dots from childhood victim to adult perpetrator, yet we keep on doing the same old thing. Punish. Lock-up. The underlying cause that leads to stress, chaos and chemical reliance is never addressed.”

Writing in the Guardian, Mark accused the intitutions of being obsessed with containment and showing little appetite to deal with major issues. Indeed one resident explained: “They can only deal with small problems.”

You can view the full report here.

CYPSE NPS_Infographic.

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