IT’S rare that a newspaper journalist receives much in the way of unsolicited communication in response to an article. Yes, we sometimes experience the wrath of those lurking on Twitter waiting to be offended, and I’ve received the odd phone call from readers desperate to point out a perceived inaccuracy or a misplaced comma in my copy.
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But the response I received to an article which appeared last week on a shortage of places in secure accommodation for vulnerable young people was different.
In the piece, we revealed that teenagers with behavioural difficulties – who are a danger to themselves and others – risk being separated from their families and moved to facilities in England due to a lack of places in Scotland. On a number of occasions during the past week I have checked the website of the Secure Accommodation Network Scotland, which keeps an up-to-date tally of the number of places available in Scotland’s five secure units – the figure has fluctuated between one and zero.
Since the article was published, I have been contacted by members of the public and a number of charities.
The Scottish Children’s Services Coalition, representing charities working with young people, said the situation was “nothing short of a national disgrace”. In a letter signed by the heads of five children’s charities, it said: “We too are very concerned by this practice and it is nothing short of a national disgrace that young people in Scotland are being sent into secure accommodation, often far outwith their local area, or will potentially be sent to secure units in England due to a lack of capacity in the system.”
Others have reiterated the importance of young people remaining close to their families, even if they are to enter secure accommodation for a short time.
There are around 90 beds in secure accommodation in Scotland, although Edinburgh city council plans to reduce its provision from 12 to six. The typical stay can last for a number of months.
The Scottish Government says it is “monitoring capacity issues”, but given the response to our story, it’s clear the situation is already approaching crisis point. Should even one child be sent hundreds of miles away to a secure unit in England, then the system could accurately be described as failing.
Edinburgh city council has noted that a “disproportionate” number of those in its secure unit are girls under the age of 15.
Given the growing concerns over child sexual exploitation in the wake of the Rotherham scandal, it’s more important than ever for local authorities not to fail these young people.
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