Crossing the ‘threshold of risk’: a study of local secure accommodation decision making in Scotland.
Roesch-Marsh, Autumn Ellen
Marsh, Autumn Ellen Roesch
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Secure accommodation is locked residential child care for children, usually under the age of 16, who may represent a risk to themselves and/ or others. This thesis examines the findings of a study into decision making processes which determine the provision and legitimacy of secure accommodation for young people in one local authority area in Scotland. The thesis begins by investigating the legislative and policy context, arguing that policy confusion in this area means secure accommodation is likely to face an uncertain future. It goes on to provide an overview of relevant research and contends that there is a need to better understand the processes and factors influencing local decision making. The case study methodology employed is explicated which included the use of interviews, questionnaires, observations, and focus groups in order to gain the perspectives of managers, social workers, children’s panel members, residential workers and young people. The thesis explores the range of factors which were found to influence local decision makers including: their role in the decision making system and the operation of that system; their use of legislation and guidance; their subjective understanding of risk and risk assessment; their personal and collective ‘thresholds of risk’ which were linked to ideas about gender, age and vulnerability; the quality of ‘evidence’ about risks and needs which was influenced by who and how this ‘evidence’ of risk was presented; available resources and perceptions about the suitability of those resources to meet the needs of particular young people and the resident group already in secure placement. Participant conceptualisations of risk are analysed. In contrast to adult decision makers, this thesis demonstrates that young people often understand their own ‘risky’ behaviour as an attempt to communicate with social work systems within which they feel disempowered. The thesis concludes by making a number of recommendations for improvements to decision making policy and practice, including the need for greater transparency in relation to decision making systems and processes and more opportunities for service user participation at every level of local decision making.