Why we're offering education as an alternative to custodial sentencing - Sarah-Jane Linton

As a board member of WhoCares?Scotland I have seen this organisation lead the movement for trauma-informed practice in our public bodies through the creation of ‘the Promise’. A promise that every child grows up loved, safe and respected, and able to realise their full potential.

Sarah-Jane Linton, Vice Principal (Learning and Attainment) at West Lothian College

The transformative role of colleges plays into this agenda and, in my role as vice principal at West Lothian College, I am proud to lead our commitment to trauma-responsive practice.

We pledged to become a trauma-informed, ACEs-aware (adverse childhood experiences) college in 2018. We provided training for staff, joined and hosted the West Lothian ACES Hub, and enhanced our support for students who have experienced trauma.

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Through the Children’s Hearings Scotland Learning Academy, our college is in a unique position to contribute to Scotland’s ambition to be an ACEs-aware nation. Our trainers have embedded an understanding of childhood trauma into the courses they deliver to all volunteer panel members across the country.

Our staff lead with vision and empathy to enable success for all. Everyone who works at our college helps students to thrive as they learn. They know the importance of being aware of the consequences of childhood trauma in understanding our students and they adapt their practice accordingly.

Inspired to do more, we have embarked on an exciting project to promote alternatives to custodial sentences for young people. This is challenging work in a community scarred by early drug deaths and trenchant pockets of poverty. Victims of crimes themselves, many then become perpetrators. In the words of Community Justice Scotland‘s Karyn McCluskey, “hurt people, hurt people”.

There is much to do and we can’t do this alone. Collaboration with statutory services and third sector partners is vital and, working with local social work partners, we have created two innovative projects.

The main project is an an exciting new approach of education as an alternative to custodial sentencing. The key to success is ensuring the young person coming to college needs only to tell of their trauma once. All services, including social work, share the right data to provide the right support. Critically, while working towards their qualification and through a careful understanding of their skills, talents and motivation to learn, the young person is referred for wraparound therapy at college.

The second project aims to change the language around life story work for health and social care practitioners. As a foster parent, I have experienced many examples of inaccurate recording, negative descriptions of my children and a narrow view of their potential life chances. In my support of care-experienced young people in accessing historical files, heavy with redaction and negative language, I have seen a failure to capture the true essence of some of the most resilient people I have ever met.

As the college trains the next wave of social care workers, nurses, early years practitioners and other future corporate parents, our social work partners are helping us reframe the way we document the crucial moments in life when people make contact with services.

Our alternative model to damaging custodial sentences aims to break the cycle for young people experiencing poverty, addiction, crime and recidivism. Shared commitment from our highly motivated workforce, our student association, community partners and campaigners aims to build a whole system approach to creating hope where it’s all but lost.

Sarah-Jane Linton Vice Principal (Learning and Attainment) at West Lothian College

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