Working in Secure Children’s Homes with Justice-involved Children
: An Exploratory Study of Staff Perceptions of Children and their Offences

  • Paula Phillips

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The youth justice system oversees the management of justice-involved children. It allows for detention in young offender institutions, secure training centres and secure children’s homes. The youngest and most vulnerable children are placed in secure children’s homes. The literature identifies that most children in custody have traumatic histories but are generally perceived negatively. There is a large body of literature on this subject but less on how the staff that work in the children’s secure estate perceive the children and their offences. This research focuses on this gap in knowledge. It asks:

What are staff perceptions about the children they work with?

What influences staff perceptions about the children they work with?

A qualitative method, underpinned by a social constructivist position, yielded a co-constructed ‘reality’ between the researcher and the participants. This revealed that perceptions of justice-involved children are context reliant, related to staff personal histories and their work settings. Overall, staff perceived children as ‘child first, offender second’ with histories as ‘victims’ and with complex needs. Such accounts were, however, qualified, with the characteristics of the child, the offence type and current behaviour all having an impact, as did the setting.

The recommendations highlight the need for further research exploring the factors behind perception of ‘child first, offender second’ approaches. There is also a need for research that foregrounds the voices of children, particularly girls. Practice recommendations include promotion of culture change through critical enquiry and challenge; the need to develop service/staffing structure and roles; and recruitment processes. Support systems such as supervision are recommended as is staff development in specific areas, for example for those working with young people who self-harm or who have learning difficulties.
Date of Award2023
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorBen Raikes (Main Supervisor) & Brid Featherstone (Co-Supervisor)

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