Data from the DfE shows a fall in the number of children held in secure units at the end of March 2015 (SRF 15/2015). Now one must always be wary of figures for a single date because there may have been fluctuations during the year in the overall numbers. However, by comparing the same date over time it is clear that the number of children being held in secure units, especially as a result of an interaction with the criminal justice system, is on a downward trend. In 2010, 161 children were detailed after coming into contact with the criminal justice system in one way or another. By 2015 that number was down to 117 with a further 88 children placed in secure accommodation on welfare grounds. Of these 82 were children from England and six were children from Wales.
An encouraging sign is that the number of young children below the age of sixteen in secure accommodation at the census date has fallen over recent years. Although this number is still too high, it does seem to be going in the right direction. The number of 16 and 17 year olds in secure accommodation has increased. There needs to be some understanding of whether this is because of the actions of the courts, and the Youth Court in particular, or whether it is due to some local authorities resorting to a short period in secure accommodation for young people at risk of exploitation.
Indeed, the use of secure accommodation on welfare grounds may well be worth re-visiting. Is there any evidence that it can actually make a difference to lock up a teenager for say a month. Does it break their habits or do they return to the behaviour that caused concern as soon as they leave the secure accommodation?
Of course, these are figures for young people in secure accommodation as a result of the actions of the State. There are others that find themselves in confinement as a result of being trafficked by adults that have no concerns for their welfare, but merely see them as objects with a commercial value. Even after the recent series of trials in the courts it seems unlikely that the exploitation of young people, both girls and boys, for commercial gain through sexual activities has stopped.
Indeed, the prosecution of historic cases must not deny the resources of both the police and local authorities to following up current cases. In this respect schools have a vital part to play in identifying patterns of behaviour that may lead to a child becoming at risk of exploitation. Whatever academies and their sponsors may think of local authorities, they have a duty to cooperate in monitoring and reporting pupils at risk. There is a concern that some of these children are regarded as a nuisance by some schools and placed on an alternative education programme that may have far less hours of tuition than a normal school day. If that is the case then, out of sight must not mean out of mind.