By Jenny Molloy
Thankfully, a few days of reflection have passed since witnessing the abuse of children in Medway secure training centre, run by G4S, exposed by the courageous journalist in the BBC1 Panorama programme. Had I not been gifted this period of contemplation, this blog would have been swayed by anger and calls for retribution, missing the equally important underlying issue – that these children are children of the state.
Children who are sentenced to a period in secure care are automatically categorised as looked-after children (if they were not before), not prisoners. Therefore, they should expect the same level of care and protection as all children in our care system. However, here were examples of extreme physical and emotional abuse against children, and these, sadly, were not uncommon in my time in care either.
My books share some of the violence handed out in secure care, but much is left unsaid. There are many reasons for this, one being that I will always deny the abusers the ability to dictate my happiness. This did not of course stop my mind shooting back to a male member of staff, the principal, picking me up by my hair and carrying me through to another room, me screaming and, to my absolute shame, having wet myself. I was a child. A child who had been removed from a household of violence, addiction, adult street sex work and extreme neglect. What was I going to report?
‘Violence was inevitable’
I believed that my crime fitted the punishment and that violence was what I deserved (I was messing around in my bedroom at bedtime). I believed all females deserved violence if they acted in such a way as to upset a man. I believed that violence towards females was inevitable. I did not consider that this could be stopped. Years of therapy, trying to challenge my beliefs, attitudes and lack of self worth, gave me the insight of understanding why I viewed the world as a scary place and females as sub human to males. I’m told the former is a common outcome of research into adult survivors of childhood neglect.
The director of children’s services for G4S, Paul Cook, dropped into his well rehearsed media savvy statement, published on YouTube, that (I paraphrase) “all of the children have access to ChildLine via their in-room phones”. Of course, like a light bulb going on, I realise that all children in care, because that’s what these children are, have responsibility for reporting their own abuse. Why did I not think of that in my first secure unit? Alone, frightened, but of course always trusting that allegations made would be believed and acted upon.
Child whistleblowers not believed
My fury intensifies writing these words to such levels that I struggle to catch my breath. The fact is that children, acting as whistleblowers on their own abuse by professionals while still living within the same environments, are at times not believed, tragically proven in the case of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham. Further, Sir Martin Narey, a prominent influence in the evolution of the Decency Agenda in the prison service, states his tireless efforts to reduce violence against prisoners, while acknowledging that reporting such acts would have proved futile in his younger days. It was not until he was in a position of power that he could make changes to this culture. If adults could/would not report, who is Paul Cook referring to?
Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, wrote in the Guardian this week:
“What is clear is that the 50 children being detained at G4S Medway should be moved immediately. Instead, they should be either held in local authority units, or in a few cases may be better cared for in a residential setting provided by the NHS. Those about to be released could go home early.”
I absolutely agree. So why are children, who could live in a non-prison setting, in Medway secure training centre? The answer is an age-old reason. It is not uncommon for children to be criminalised within the care system; Lee had hit a residential care worker. However, it is all too common that children within the care system are charged with offences within the home, be it children’s homes, foster care etc., that would not normally be handled by the criminal justice system had the child lived within their family home.
Attempts have been made to address this in a report by Parliament’s justice committee in 2013, and with Ofsted using behavior management and response as a measure when inspecting services for looked-after children. However, it continues to happen, and will continue all the while we allow organisations, whether privately or locally governed, to treat our children as less worthy of kindness, compassion, protection and love than children living within a family home.
Jenny Molloy is a care leaver and author of ‘Hackney Child’ and ‘Neglected’