Sticks and Stones

Driving home last night and listening to PM and news bulletins on BBC Radio 4, I heard the same interview clip over and over again. It was part of an interview with Paul Cook, Managing Director of G4S Children’s Services in response to the alleged abuse at Medway secure children’s unit which caters for ‘young offenders between the ages of 12 and 17’.
Paul said “no matter what the children and young people have done who come into our centres, and some of them have committed some very horrific offences, they need to be treated properly and fairly and with due care.”

Sounds ok, right?

But somehow something about it unsettled me.
During the reporting, various other professionals were interviewed and gave similar messages about care, respect, the need for positive role models and gentle and human approaches…. but it was Paul’s soundbite which was repeated and used on main news bulletins throughout the evening. And as I listened again, it struck me. Whilst Paul may mean what he says and would hope for fair and proper treatment for these young people, his reference to the ‘horrific crimes’ seems, to me, to imply something quite different. Those of us who work in inclusion will know how important language is and how the way we speak about children and young people and do or don’t label them is key. Had I been Paul, I might have said “we are committed to ensuring the best care and provision for our most vulnerable young people.” But the reference to the ‘horrific crimes’? Why? Surely we would expect that, if the young people in question are in a centre for those who have offended (note my different use of language to the BBC’s above), they have committed some fairly serious crimes? So why say it?
My bet would be that those who’d like to see all ‘young offenders’ locked up for life, punished and certainly not allowed to threaten our streets or mainstream schools will have taken subliminal re-assurance from this soundbite and that it did nothing to help challenge their beliefs. And I also have a slight fear that the ‘and some of them have….’ might also be taken by some listeners as a HINT of an excuse for what may have happened.
Let us remember, there is NEVER any excuse for our most vulnerable children and young people to be hurt or harmed by those who have been tasked with caring for them.
I have never worked in a secure unit, I hugely respect and admire those who do and I am not sure that I would be able to without a huge amount of training BUT, to my mind fundamental principles apply.
Our most challenging and challenged children and young people will push and push and try to get us who work with them to hate and reject them; this will push us to the end of our tethers. And, as the BBC report rightly said beyond the soundbite, those of us who work with them need the training and support to deal with that and see the behaviour for what it is; communication of distress, despair and often self-hatred.
If we believe in restorative practice and a truly inclusive society then it is beyond question that we condemn this alleged behaviour by staff at Medway. But we also need, in my opinion to challenge this type of reporting and language use. Otherwise, we re-inforce the idea that some of our children and young people are beyond help and hope.

What if it was your son or daughter?


This post links slightly to one I wrote last week
and also to a fabulous post by @Adsthepoet about the ‘hard to reach’ or ‘easy to ignore’ which I highly recommend:


2 thoughts on “Sticks and Stones

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