Letter: Privatised care of troubled children is not the answer

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The Independent Online
Sir: We share the concerns of this Government at the rising rate of juvenile crime and the crisis in secure residential child care. However, we have serious reservations about the proposals for implementation of policy. You published a letter from us (10 March 1993) on the occasion of the announcement by the then Home Secretary, of his plans to open new secure training units for 12-15 year olds; we called then for careful appraisal of the nature and size of the problems of troubled and anti-social children and adolescents, before the adoption of policies for a new wave of very expensive institutionalisation.

The announcement by the Health Secretary of another U-turn in Government policy, and of the Government's intention to invite the private sector to run secure and locked units for delinquent, abused and abusing children worries us even more.

We called previously for a strategy of joint working between different government agencies, prison department, social and educational services, voluntary agencies and the Health Service. That, however, appears to be a forlorn hope, and consequently damaged children and adolescents continue as political footballs, while both they and society pay the price. We do not underestimate the difficulties of inter-agency co-operation, in the spirit of Working Together (HMSO, 1991), but we see little evidence of it happening other than patchily.

The commitment to, and the investment in, community services for children and families appears lost in this turmoil. The private sector is unlikely to offer integrative working with community-based services and even less likely to offer them: its record is largely, and increasingly, in the institutional sphere.

We therefore fully support the suggestion made in your excellent leading article (17 August) that 'a single government agency (become) responsible for co-ordinating the policy, management and safety of care for children by the state'. A strategic initiative uniting the different agencies and disparate professional providers might thereby be created.

It is easier to conceptualise buildings than it is to conceptualise troubled and troubling youths and the necessary services. Privatisation can only be a distraction from the urgent need to formally co-ordinate a variety of agencies in a coherent strategy.

Yours faithfully,

CHRISTOPHER CORDESS (Consultant Forensic Psychiatrist), GRAEME FARQUHARSON (Former director of Peper Harow), KINGSLEY NORTON (Consultant Psychotherapist), TIM SCANNELL (Consultant Adolescent Psychiatrist), VALERIE SINASON (Child Psychotherapist), JEANNIE MILLIGAN (Lecturer in Social Work), ESTELA WELLDON (Consultant Psychotherapist), PETER WILSON (Director of Young Minds)

North West Thames Forensic

Psychiatry Service

London, W11