Impact and recovery from COVID-19 within secure settings for children in custody

Project Details


Children entering custody have increasingly complex mental health needs and rates of self-harm, violence, and the use of restrictive physical interventions had been increasing prior to COVID-19 . In response to COVID-19, daily life within secure settings were severely restricted. These restrictions will have had an impact on all children, but particularly those with pre-existing mental illness and those from certain communities. There are also likely to longer-term negative impact on children’s mental health due to the extended periods of time with limited interactions with others or access to services. We want to better understand the impact of these restrictions on vulnerable children.

COVID-19 presents an unprecedented public health crisis that has put added pressure on secure settings. Concerns have been raised about the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on the mental health of children over the longer-term. There is some evidence that the restrictions may have led to reduced incidences of self-harm and violence, driven by severely restricted daily life. But there are concerns about a spike in rates once all restrictions are lifted, therefore it is vital to learn quickly alternative ways we can reduce rates. Of particular concern is that when the roadmap for easing COVID-19 restrictions in prisons were published, secure settings for children in custody featured very little. The needs of children in custody are different to those of adults in prison, and therefore separate plans are needed in recognition of their vulnerability and complex needs. We would like to capture what is happening in children’s secure settings to inform policy decisions on recovery, but also to mitigate the longer-term impacts on children’s wellbeing.

This research involves mixed methods (quantitative and qualitative data), over three phases.

Phase 1: Will obtain centrally held anonymised data on the rates of self-harm, violence, restrictive physical interventions, and single separation for all secure settings.

Phase 2: We will conduct semi-structured interviews with:
A senior staff member in each secure setting (e.g., healthcare manager, unit manager, staff responsible for safety) to understand the individual approaches in response to COVID-19.

24-30 interviews with children who experienced custody during COVID-19 to explore experiences (positive and negative) and their perceptions of the impact of COVID-19.

24-30 interviews with members of staff working within secure settings. We will sample to include a range of staff roles e.g., health, education, and secure setting staff. Interviews will explore staffs positive and negative experiences and perceptions of the impact of COVID-19 on their specific setting.

15-20 interviews with professionals external to the secure settings but who provide services to them or who are responsible to policy making/commissioning. Interviews will explore perceptions of the positive and negative impact of COVID-19 on secure settings and what factors we need to consider for developing workable policy recommendations.

15-18 family members of children who experienced custody during COVID-19. Interviews will explore experiences and perceptions of the impact of COVID-19.

Phase 3: We combine the data from phase 1 and phase 2 to create a number of explanations for any changing rates of self-harm, violence, restrictive physical interventions, and single separation. These will be presented at stakeholder events to develop a consensus to produce policy recommendations.
Short titleRecovery, Renewal, Reset: Research to inform policy responses to COVID-19 in the health and social care systems
Effective start/end date1/09/2131/08/22

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