'Treat them like children'

10th November 2006 at 00:00
Youngsters in the youth justice system in Wales must be treated as children first and offenders second. So says the man who runs the country's only secure residential children's home, Hillside in Neath, which celebrates its 10th anniversary next Friday.

Colin Davies is hoping that a celebratory open day at the unit will give policy-makers in Wales a chance to see for themselves why it has been so successful.

"I would like to see what we have here at Hillside replicated two or three times throughout the country, to provide the secure facilities needed," he said.

"At the moment, the youth justice system sees children as offenders first and children second. That needs to be reversed."

Hillside provides 18 placements for youngsters aged 12-17. Fourteen are reserved for children sentenced through the courts and the remainder are for those who have not offended but are a risk to themselves or others.

On average, two-thirds of the beds are taken by boys.

When a child arrives at Hillside (all inmates are classified as children), they are rigorously assessed by a team including psychologists, psychiatrists and teachers, and a tailored programme designed to meet their individual needs is drawn up.

"Many of the children who come here have suffered some sort of abuse - physical, emotional and sexual. Others have problems with drugs and alcohol," said Mr Davies.

"We provide intensive programmes for their needs. The emphasis at Hillside is to treat them as children and not as offenders. Yes, their punishment is to be locked up but we hope always to get a positive outcome.

"Children demand to be controlled and they want barriers which have usually been missing from their lives. We work to build up self-security which enables them to control themselves."

The home looks beyond the bad behaviour to find its causes.

"Once we know why a child behaves as he does, we can start tackling that,"

said Mr Davies, who has been at Hillside nine years and has spent his life working with children in care.

Education is given great emphasis, with every child attending daily lessons. Most of them have missed a lot of schooling and some arrive unable to read or write.

The home tries hard to ensure children are rehabilitated back into their home community. "Children get anxious when they are leaving us because they know that they will not get such intensive support outside," said Mr Davies.

"Sadly, many do not want to go. We provide a nurturing and secure environment - sometimes the first these children will have had."

WHERE WE SEND YOUNG OFFENDERS

The Youth Justice Board for England and Wales (YJB) is responsible for placing under 18-year-olds in secure accommodation.

It uses young offender institutions operated by the Prison Service for 15 to 21-year-olds, secure training centres where young people are educated and rehabilitated, and secure children's homes which are run by local authorities.

In Wales, there are 14 places at Hillside secure children's home in Neath, and 36 at Prison Parc, Bridgend. Around 190 children and young people aged 10-17 are sentenced or remanded to secure accommodation at any one time in Wales.

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