Some Christian groups still promote ‘gay conversion therapy’ – but their influence is waning

Chris Greenough, Edge Hill University

The idea that to be gay is to be sick and in need of a cure might seem archaic and bizarre by mainstream standards, but among a few fundamentalist Christian groups, it lives on today.

Recently, one such group, the Core Issues Trust, booked a cinema in London’s West End for a film screening event which advocated conversion from homosexuality. The film, Voices of the Silenced, promotes the idea that people can be “rescued” from homosexual impulses and practices, and was also supported by representatives from Christian Concern. After an outcry, the screening was ultimately cancelled by the cinema, where the group staged a public protest on February 8.

This was an unusually conspicuous appearance by what remains a relatively fringe organisation. Core Issues Trust, Christian Concern and similar groups claim that people identifying as non-heterosexual can be “converted” into heterosexuals. Presently, there is no ban on gay conversion therapy in the UK. But whereas “ex-gay” ministries have received plenty of coverage in the US, it’s unusual to see a Christian group like this operating visibly in the UK.

For many, non-heterosexuality and Christianity are still hard to reconcile. This is largely due to the long history of negativity towards non-heterosexuals from Christian groups. Today, the Church of England’s position is much more promising: in 2017, the General Synod voted in favour of not continuing with its ban on blessing or marrying same-sex couples – a major rubicon in its journey towards full inclusiveness. What’s more, the Church of England General Synod has also called for a ban on gay conversion therapy.

But while it might sound like a sea change is underway, there’s still a way to go. While the Core Issues Trust’s values and actions are clearly out of date and largely out of favour, they still find enough of an audience to sustain themselves.

Clash of identities

Some Christians find it hugely difficult to reconcile their non-heterosexuality with their faith. This often leads to negative feelings of fear, anxiety, loneliness, confusion and self-hatred. Conversion therapies recognise and exploit the resulting negative emotions and internal conflict, and offer to resolve the clash of identities by “freeing” people from homosexuality.

In my book Undoing Theology: Life Stories from Non-normative Christians, I spend a chapter exploring the emotional roller coaster of one individual’s journey with Christian “conversion” therapy. Desiring release and repair from negative, internalised feelings, non-heterosexual people essentially find themselves forced to bargain – challenged to accept such a “cure” in exchange for a better life.

While being involved in communities which offer such a “cure” can provide a space for the two incompatible identities of non-heterosexual individuals to temporarily coexist, the long-term consequences are damaging. Of course, throughout history, similar non-religious based “therapeutic” methods have been tried, among them extreme physical medical procedures: castrations, lobotomies, clitoridectomies and shock treatments. Then there are “psychiatric” procedures to deal with the mental state of the “sick” gay person, chief among them hypnosis.

As the protagonist in my book affirmed after spending 18 years within the ex-gay ministry, these extreme physical, psychological and spiritual attempts do not work. They are highly destructive and often painful – and their failure indicates that the very possibility of conversion is a lie.

Pushing back

Even for those who don’t undergo therapy themselves, the lie has pernicious impact. Proposing to “cure” or “convert” non-heterosexual people is a form of delegitimisation. It is wholly unethical. It is a denial of human rights. It encourages internalised homophobia and self-hatred. In the UK, both religion and sexuality are included in equality legislation as protected characteristics – but the screening in London shows that extreme religious views on sexuality are still being asserted in public.

Fortunately, a large proportion of both the clergy and the faithful who remain in the pews share inclusive, accepting attitudes more in step with the mainstream. And inside many Christian communities, efforts are underway to improve the situation further. Open Table offers an inclusive worship community and a safe sacred space for non-heterosexual and non-cisgender Christians. Many more groups offer bespoke opportunities for people to come together and practise their faith without negating their identity.

While the small minority of Christian groups spreading this negativity has not gone away, thankfully there are fewer examples of such hostility. (The Student Union at my own university recently celebrated pride week, and the Christian Union group publicly announced its solidarity.) Sexuality remains a controversial issue for the churches, but it also serves as a measure of inclusivity.

The ConversationEvidently, some fundamentalist Christian groups remain obsessed with non-heterosexuality, and put considerable energy into railing against it wherever they can. The cumulative impact of their actions is highly damaging and toxic to the people they reach. A broad ban on conversation therapy – whether relating to sexuality or gender identity – is long overdue.

Chris Greenough, Senior Lecturer in Theology and Religion, Edge Hill University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The James Bulger case should not set the age of criminal responsibility

Sean Creaney

Sean Creaney, Edge Hill University; Roger Smith, Durham University, and Stephen Case, Loughborough University

On February 12, 1993, two-year-old James Bulger was abducted and murdered by 10-year-olds Jon Venables and Robert Thompson. It was a crime that stunned the world and the shadow of it still looms large over British culture and the English justice system. In her new book about the killing, James’ mother, Denise Fergus, talks about how she believes the legal system failed – and continues to fail – her family following the subsequent release of the child murderers. And just this week, the story was in the news again after one of the killers – the former Jon Venables – was jailed for 40 months for possessing child abuse images.

The Bulger case fed into a political, media and – as a result – public climate of opinion that young offenders were wicked, irresponsible, immoral and evil. But these perceptions are based on an extremely rare crime and invalid presumptions of an unfit system, fuelling more general stereotypes and knee-jerk responses.

The case has continued to generate strong feelings and fervent debate about how the two offenders should have been treated and this is as much a moral argument as it is a matter of rational reflection on rights, responsibilities and what the evidence tells us. For example, this one case is still highly pertinent to discussions around the age of criminal responsibility.

Out of step

Despite repeated criticism from the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, in England and Wales the age of criminal responsibility has remained at ten since 1963 – one of the lowest in Europe. But this is incompatible with what we know of children’s “evolving capacities” (the way children mature).

With the average age of criminal responsibility being 14, the UK is out of step with the rest of Europe. This does not mean that other countries ignore crimes committed by younger children. Instead, they deal with them through the child protection and welfare systems, as in the Norwegian case which bore some notable similarities to that of the James Bulger murder.

Repeated calls to raise the age at which children can be prosecuted have never been taken seriously, at least partly because of the James Bulger case, as it continues to trouble the hearts and minds of the British public. Venables and Thompson were described as “cunning” and “wicked” and their behaviour as an act of “unparalleled evil and barbarity”. Although incredibly serious and shocking, this was a very rare crime. But it continues to influence how young children who cause harm are dealt with in general.

The persistence with which the law seeks to criminalise children contravenes international rights and is unfair, illogical and contradictory. At the age of ten, children are deemed capable of criminal intent yet not “mature” enough to seek paid employment until the age of 13. They cannot marry without parental permission until the age of 16, drive until 17 or vote in a general election until they are 18.

The UK government claims it is common sense to assume that 10-year-old children know the difference between right and wrong and to prosecute them for offences is perfectly legitimate. But this is much too simplistic and flies in the face of the available evidence. It runs counter to all we know about the processes by which children learn and develop the capacity to make fully informed moral judgements and behavioural choices.

Headlines v evidence

Despite recurrent headlines such as “Rise of the child offender? The under 10s linked to drugs, sex and violence crimes on Merseyside”, offences by young children of a seriously violent or sexual nature are very rare. Those who do commit such offences have often been harmed themselves and come from chaotic backgrounds, with histories of poor mental health, dysfunctional families and backgrounds of emotional, physical or sexual abuse.

Most offending by young people is relatively low-level, constituting only one part of a much broader and more complex identity. Subjecting young children to criminal justice intervention is counterproductive and developmentally damaging. A criminalising, stigmatising and labelling course of action prevents the child from pursuing a “good life” – one of purpose and meaning. Justice systems do not help to promote a non-criminal identity as the evidence confirms. In fact, contact with the justice system reinforces a criminal identity, making it harder for the children to escape the criminal path.

The ConversationDespite the evidence and the claim that society would be better served if the age of criminal responsibility was substantially increased, reform is unlikely. Government will not contemplate raising the age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales while the shadow of James Bulger looms large over any such discussion. If there is no change, children will continue to be denied justice appropriate to their age and maturity.

Sean Creaney, Lecturer in Psychosocial Analysis of Offending Behaviour, Edge Hill University; Roger Smith, Professor of Social Work, Durham University, and Stephen Case, Professor of Criminology, Loughborough University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why we need to review joint enterprise laws

Joint enterprise is a controversial common law doctrine. It was claimed – in a recent debate secured by the Labour MP Lucy Powell – joint enterprise has ‘produced one of the biggest and most widespread miscarriages of justice ever to face our justice system’. Many MPs backed calls for a review.

Put simply, joint enterprise is when two or more people are deemed criminally liable for a single crime. You can be deemed criminally liable by being associated with a crime even if involvement was peripheral. In other words, they don’t have to have shown intent or have delivered the ‘killer blow’.

Joint Enterprise not Guilty by Association (JENGbA) co-founder Jan Cunliffe recently delivered an inspiring guest lecture at Edge Hill University, arguing that joint enterprise is an outdated, prehistoric law that draws innocent people – especially vulnerable children and Black Asian Minority Ethnic (BAME) individuals – into the criminal justice system.

At the Edge Hill event, Jan discussed her son Jordan Cunliffe’s case, explaining how he did not witness the murder of Gary Newlove as he was blind. Thus, Jan said he could not have understood what was happening let alone encourage what he could not see. Despite this, the jury found him guilty of murder and as Jan alluded to this was because of joint enterprise, or the notion of ‘possible foresight’ being applied.

It has been argued Jordan Cunliffe has one thing in common with others listed on the JENGbA website – they have not been found guilty ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’ but rather on the basis of a ‘possibility’.

The government need to take the JENGbA campaign seriously. I urge you to support the brave and persistent JENGbA campaign and help to address wrongful convictions of, according to JENGbA and acknowledged in the recent debate in the House of Commons, hundreds of innocent people.

Sean Creaney is a Lecturer in Psychosocial Analysis of Offending Behaviour in the Faculty of Health & Social Care at Edge Hill University. He is a former Trustee at the National Association for Youth Justice. He is currently an advisor at the social justice charity Peer Power, and a PhD candidate at Liverpool John Moores University. He also writes The Youth Justice Blog in Children and Young People Now.

Banning piercings for under 18s may be medically a good idea, but it takes away choice and self-esteem

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Michael Richards, Edge Hill University

It is now an offence for under-18s in Wales to get any intimate piercings – meaning tongue, genitals and nipples. One of the main arguments for this ban is that young people under 18 are still physically developing and that these kinds of piercings can stifle that development and lead to infection.

It’s a fair point – but this also feels like a frustrating barrier for young people who want control over their own bodies – and the reaction from young people in Wales has been mixed. Some think their peers rush into getting a piercing too quickly, while others say it should be about what makes you happy.

When teenagers hit 16, they can (among other things) consent to medical and surgical procedures, drink alcohol, have sex, and join the armed forces. So it’s hard to see what the problem is with a little stud, bar or hoop when they are legally grown up enough to do all these other things. If young people can do all this before they reach 18 years old, surely they can alter or enhance their body in any way they like?

The ban, particularly for 16 and 17-year olds, may feel like nothing more than just another barrier to those who want to, and feel ready to, take responsibility for their own bodies.

Piercings, not problems. Shutterstock

Teenagers are going to rebel, experiment and try new things. In the USA, more young people over 18 than ever before are getting piercings as well as tattoos. In the UK there has been a similar boom in young people getting piercings over the past 20 years – and having piercings has become a rite of passage for many. Something to get excited about – no different from a first alcoholic drink, or finally being able to call themselves an “adult” when they reach 18.

The problem is that there can be serious health effects when getting a piercing. Even non-intimate ear piercings can result in keloid scars, while piercings on all parts of the body, can give rise to serious infections and even disfigurement. Researchers have found that young people who get piercings are likely to experience swelling, infection and bleeding, particularly in intimate areas of the body. In a 2008 study of piercings in England – which has been cited by the Welsh government – 28% of people who had body piercings experienced complications, while 13% had serious problems. In addition, one in 100 piercings among 16 to 24-year-olds saw them being admitted to hospital.

Risky business

The health risks of getting an intimate piercing appear to be high. So when the medical perspective on piercing is considered, there appears to be complete justification for the ban. There is also the issue of children being placed in potentially vulnerable situations to consider. Giving evidence to the Welsh government, the Chartered Institute for Environmental Health said this:

If you go to a doctor for an intimate examination, you’re entitled to have a chaperone there, and the doctor, or whoever is involved, will have had a criminal record check at some point.

We have practitioners who have had no checks at all around sexual offences that they may have carried out, or assaults that they may have carried out. But people are putting themselves, and children are putting themselves, in an extremely vulnerable position.

Another valid point – there are child protection issues at play here. But surely that is the case for any adult who may get an intimate piercing too?

For many people, making choices over their own body is empowering, makes them feel good and helps them to feel that they look good, which lifts self-esteem, positivity and confidence. This is so important for young people today, with so many experiencing negativity about their bodies, having suicidal thoughts and urges towards self-harm.

The ConversationYoung people are always striving for control over their own minds and bodies – so being able to feel good about themselves is likely to overwhelm any common sense relating to the health risks that come with piercings. If a young person who can legally do many things wants to feel good about themselves by having a piercing, is it really so bad? This is about about choice – and the ban takes away choice for people who feel happy to have piercings on their body.

Michael Richards, Lecturer in Applied Health and Social Care, Edge Hill University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why we still need to teach young people about the Holocaust

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The inscription on the gate to the Auschwitz concentration camp (Poland): ‘Work makes you free’. shutterstock

Michael Richards, Edge Hill University; Dr. Anna Bussu, Edge Hill University, and Dr Peter Leadbetter, Edge Hill University

It has been more than 70 years since the Nazi-occupied Auschwitz concentration camp was liberated. Auschwitz was the most notorious of all the concentration camps – where it is believed that more than a million people were systematically exterminated via state systems of execution and torture.

Concentration camps were central to the Nazi ideology and
victims were mostly Jews, Gypsies, black people, gay people and people with intellectual disabilities.

But while most people have heard of the major concentration camps – Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Dachau, and Treblinka – these were not the only places Jews and other prisoners were held. Each of the 23 main camps had sub-camps – there were nearly 900 of them in total.

The horrors of Auschwitz and World War II led Western scholars and governments to become increasingly sensitive to the need to educate society about the dangers of exclusionary institutional structures and genocidal social policies. Which is why schools throughout Europe and beyond teach students about the Holocaust – and the associated moral and ethical issues.

The importance of Holocaust commemoration has also helped to create symbolic places and memorials – such as the Museum of the History of Polish Jews. This museum has an educational training centre with facilities to enrich the studies on the Holocaust. Other sites include the Jewish Museum in Prague and the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York.

History repeating?

Young people today are growing up at a time when support for right-wing politics is on the rise across Europe. With unemployment rife and the prospects of owning a home diminishing, right-wing groups offer an alternative way for disengaged young people to see the world. This is evidenced by a surge of numbers and support for far-right parties groups across Europe – including France, Sweden, The Netherlands and Austria.

In these countries, outsider parties have had large increases in support for their populist and controversial political campaigns. And while most of these parties have not achieved a full grip on power, it is a cause for concern that radical right-ring candidates are getting votes and being taken seriously.

France’s Marine Le Pen who plans to rebrand the National Front in an attempt to swing her party back to its anti-immigrant and anti-crime roots. Shutterstock

This is increasingly worrying given that direct intolerance of others is being advocated by powerful world leaders. Since Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 US presidential election, he has caused tensions among ethnic minority groups in the US and beyond.

Parallels between this growth of far-right parties can be seen in our recent history. And the political unrest, inequalities, lack of employment opportunities and fragmented societies – the sort of conditions that helped the Nazis get into power all those years ago – are alarmingly similar to the current situation in Europe.

Importance of remembering

It is therefore timely and important that young people continue to develop an understanding of the consequences of these ideologies and develop a moral compass. One way this can be done is by taking students to these historical sites and memorials to gain a full insight as to what it was like live through horrific events such as the Holocaust.

Our ongoing research suggests that by visiting emotional sites such as Auschwitz, it may help students to become more morally and socially aware of the consequences of exclusionary policies. And that it also helps to foster a sense of responsibility among young people – and assist in the development of their emotional and interpersonal life skills.

This is vitally important, because we have found that some university educated students have a real lack of knowledge and understanding of the Holocaust – and recent political events – despite having this information at their fingertips.

Educating for the future

In this way then, universities and schools have an obligation to educate and develop the moral and social awareness of young people. And there is a real need to preserve Holocaust sites such as Auschwitz for future generations to learn from.

Young people today are the future leaders of the world tomorrow – so it is vital that we ensure these atrocities of the Holocaust are not repeated. Especially given the diminishing numbers of survivors able to “tell their story”.

The ConversationThis is why young people need to be exposed to these historical events. And now is the time to promote tolerance and an understanding of others. Because otherwise, how else can they truly understand the potentially dire consequences of exclusion, division and lack of tolerance of others.

Michael Richards, Lecturer in Applied Health and Social Care, Edge Hill University; Dr. Anna Bussu, Lecturer in the Psychosocial Analysis of Offending Behaviour, Faculty of Health and Social Care, Edge Hill University, and Dr Peter Leadbetter, Senior Lecturer in Applied Health & Social Care, Edge Hill University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Young gang members also at risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder

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Grace Robinson, Edge Hill University

Until recently, researchers have associated post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with being a victim of trauma. Now, new findings from the US suggest that the act of killing or perpetrating violence could be even more traumatic than being a victim.

A condition often experienced by war veterans, PTSD can cause nightmares, flashbacks and feelings of isolation. But there is another group, which also suffers from high exposure to violence, that up until now has been largely overlooked: gang members.

Gangs and violence go hand-in-hand. For gang members, violence is a necessary evil – it helps them to build status and respect, and to exercise control over illegal drug markets. For young people, being involved in gangs poses a double threat: not only are they more likely to be the victims of violence and crime, they are often made to prove their loyalty to the gang by committing violence against others.

A traumatic youth

Physical, emotional or sexual abuse and neglect are all traumatic events, which increase the risk of developing mental health problems. Experiences of early childhood trauma are common among young people in the Criminal Justice System (CJS). Compared to the general population, children in the CJS are three times more likely to have mental health problems – often anxiety, depression and drug and alcohol dependence.

Trauma breeds trauma. US Marshall’s Service/Flickr., CC BY

There’s a two-way relationship between trauma and being part of a gang. Trauma increases the likelihood of joining a gang, and gang membership increases the risk of being exposed to trauma. Young people who associate with offenders or have issues with substance abuse are especially vulnerable to exploitation by gangs. When a young person joins a gang, they are exposed to the same sort of violence, victimisation and neglect which caused their trauma in the first place.

Like child soldiers in countries such as South Sudan, young people in gangs are often forced or coerced into perpetrating violence against others through initiations, turf wars and ongoing gang activity. Initiations can include sexual assault and being the victim or perpetrator of violence.

A lost generation

In one of the very few British studies to explore the link between gang membership, violence and mental health, Jeremy Coid and colleagues compared non-violent men, violent men (with no involvement in gangs) and gang members. As expected, they found mental disorders such as psychosis, anxiety, depression and drug and alcohol dependence to be much more prevalent among violent men and gang members than among non-violent men.

Gang members also had higher rates of drug dependency (57.4%) and antisocial personality disorder (85.8%) – a psychological condition which includes patterns of manipulation and exploitation of others. One of the criteria for being diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder is being exposed to violence before the age of 15. With many young people involved in gangs before this age, it’s unsurprising that many gang members are plagued by the illness.

Youth violence doesn’t just affect those involved in gangs – an estimated 75% of young people caught carrying knives having no connection to gangs. Figures from the Ministry of Justice suggest that between March 2015 and March 2016, the most common offence committed by young people was Violence Against the Person. This raises huge issues for the future mental states of many young people – not just those involved with gangs.

The ConversationWith the National Health Service already stretched and young people waiting up to 18 months for mental health treatment, the leaders of today need to make tackling youth violence a top priority – or face dealing with future generations who bear deep psychological scars.

Grace Robinson, PhD Candidate and Graduate Teaching Assistant, Edge Hill University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Online abuse on Facebook and Twitter can’t be solved by regulation alone

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Laura Bliss, Edge Hill University

The severity of abuse conducted online during 2017’s general election has brought the issue into sharp focus for politicians, some of whom have urged the prime minister to legislate against Facebook, Twitter and Google to make them liable for content posted on their sites.

Complaints about online harassment in the UK continue to rise. A recent response to a freedom of information request from the BBC revealed that, on average, the police receive 200 reports of online abuse each day – which has been described by Essex Police chief constable, Stephen Kavanagh, as just “the tip of the iceberg”.

But prosecutions under section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 and the Malicious Communications Act 1988 have fallen, according to the most recent official figures.

A report published recently by the Committee on Standards in Public Life made several recommendations, including bringing in a new law “to shift the liability for illegal content online towards social media companies”.

Silicon Valley giants such as Facebook and Google are currently protected under the European Union’s e-Commerce Directive (2000/31/EC), which states that such companies operate as “information society services”. Put simply, such services are defined as passive hosts rather than active publishers of content.

It means that social networks like Twitter are exempt from prosecution when users post illegal content, such as racist tweets, on their sites. They are only expected to remove such content after other users complain about the post. The committee said in its report:

The EU’s e-Commerce Directive is the reason that the social media companies do not search proactively for illegal content in order to remove it. The notice and takedown model incentivises service providers to avoid actively monitoring or taking preventative measures against illegal content so that they benefit from the hosting exemption.

But even with the supposed protection of the EU’s e-Commerce Directive, social networks haven’t entirely escaped regulation that forces them to act against illegal posts. In June 2017, Germany enacted legislation to fine social media firms (with a minimum net worth of £2m) if they failed to remove illegal content within 24 hours. Under those measures – which carry penalties of up to £44m – the content needs to be “clearly illegal”, which in the case of online abuse is not always easy to distinguish.

If the UK decides, post-Brexit, to abandon the e-Commerce Directive, it can develop an entirely new legal framework that could adequately tackle the proliferation of illegal posts on social networks, by holding these firms more directly accountable for comments posted on their sites.

Combating online abuse is a huge challenge

There is no quick fix when it comes to online abuse, in fact, there is probably more than one way to help overcome this problem in our society. It seems that each year, parliament creates a select committee to examine harassment on social networks, but it’s not any closer to tackling the issue.

Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg has been criticised for failing to act fast enough to crack down on abusive and illegal posts. Shutterstock

Authorities in England and Wales currently use several laws to prosecute those who abuse others online. This includes, but isn’t limited to, the Malicious Communications Act 1988, the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and the Communications Act 2003; each is not without its faults.

Arguably, the law is struggling to keep up with how people communicate online. Specific regulation could tighten the fragmented approach the UK currently takes in controlling the problem of online abuse. By having legislation which is more precise then that of the Communications Act – for instance a working definition on the term “grossly offensive” – it could act as a deterrence within society.

Education, education, education

Online abuse can’t be curtailed by regulation alone. Social media dominates much of society today. More than 2 billion people use Facebook on a monthly basis, according to the company’s latest statistics. Given the popularity of social networks, more should be done to educate people about how they behave online. A green paper, issued by the government on its internet safety strategy, recommended that compulsory lessons should be introduced. It will include advice on how to behave online. Recently YouTube vlogger Jack Maynard found out the hard way how past tweets can come back to haunt you.

Social networks need to take more responsibility for what is posted on their sites and, sadly, the only way this is likely to happen is through regulation. It’s been well documented that the likes of Facebook and Twitter are slow at removing hateful and illegal content from their sites.

But those who post abusive messages online also need to take responsibility for their actions. It starts with educating young people about social media and the consequences of their actions.

The ConversationAny legislation enacted will need to take into account our rights to freedom of expression, but there is clearly a difference between voicing an opinion and being abusive.

Laura Bliss, Graduate Teaching Assistant in Law, Edge Hill University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Constructive approaches – putting children first in the Youth Justice System

Beyond Youth Custody’s (BYC) framework for the effective resettlement of young people leaving custody promotes children’s active involvement in the decision-making process and details why practitioners must recognise and praise children’s positive attitudes and behaviours. The report advocates constructive approaches that are future orientated and strengths-based. In this blog, we promote meaningful participation, alongside critically exploring the challenges putting children first in a risk-focused context of youth justice.

In the Youth Justice System (YJS), resource and workload pressures, high caseloads and the implementation of new information and (risk-focused) assessment systems can constrain practitioner expertise, discretion and innovation. The systemic barriers further constrain children’s participation in the planning and execution of effective services. Children’s meaningful involvement in service design and delivery can prove beneficial in preventing offending, promoting positive outcomes and developing a principled, humane YJS. Indeed, the effectiveness of court orders (including degree of compliance) will be influenced by the extent of service user participation and engagement (commitment, belief) in their content and delivery. Acknowledging the child’s agency and allowing them a voice in the youth justice process facilitates engagement and transitions into desistance and positive outcomes.

It must be understood that children are on a life journey during which offending is typically transitory and relatively non-serious, constituting only one part of a much broader and more complex identity. They are children first and foremost in identity, status and capacity. Stopping offending (desisting) is a negotiated process, not a ‘one off event’. There will be times when they relapse, reoffending or refusing to comply with court orders. How this is dealt with remains critically important. Instigating breach proceedings without properly investigating the underlying causes of non-compliance can have the consequence of confirming a child’s identity as an ‘offender first’ and promoting offender- and offence-focused youth justice responses. This criminalising course of action can also prevent the child from pursuing a ‘good life’, one of purpose and meaning and damage the prospect of a new pro-social identify. Therefore, in the youth justice context specifically, they may particularly value the opportunity to ‘give their side of the story’ when there are issues with compliance.

Promoting desistance and positive outcomes
Desistance is concerned with how professionals assist children to move away from crime and live a fulfilling life. Attention is not directed at achieving short-term change but rather long-term transformation and promotion of positive outcomes in the form of individual and structural change. Positive outcomes are more likely when decision-making is shared, which itself may support relationship-building, participation and engagement. Legitimacy is crucial. Children may perceive their treatment by agents of the State (e.g. police, staff in YOTs and the secure estate) as illegitimate if they are not provided with the opportunity to inform the process, and influence decisions that affect them. Conversely, when children perceive their treatment by the YJS as legitimate (fair, just, moral), they are more likely to both comply and engage with interventions.

Applying desistance theory to practice may seem challenging. However, its core principles reflect good practice that all practitioners can sign up to, such as: establishing trusting/empathic relationships as a medium for change, instilling hope, encouraging shared decision-making and pursuing joint ownership of intervention plans and treatments. To this end, overly negative interventions that are demanding, tokenistic and imposed on children must be avoided. In particular, risk-based assessments and interventions are anathema to principled, progressive, children first practice in the YJS. The Risk-Need-Responsivity (RNR) model that guides youth justice assessment and intervention is deficit based, prioritising the identification and management of risk to shape a system that is ‘effective’ at preventing offending. The RNR model and its obsession with producing quantifiable outputs has resulted in an unhealthy preoccupation with performance management. Indeed more meaningful participation and engagement by children – as opposed to short term ‘tick box’ consultation – is much more difficult to evidence. In direct contrast, the desistance-based ‘Good Lives Model’ and the promotional ‘Positive Youth Justice’ models, build on children’s strengths and capabilities, promoting service user involvement in decision-making processes and direct attention to creating new identities and pro-social lifestyles.

It may be challenging for these constructive, positive and progressive models to be realised in practice. Children may feel that because of their ‘offender’ status, they are unable to influence decision-making processes as they are not the ones in positions of power. Instead, they must comply with practitioner requests. In turn, practitioners may feel that the main focus of their work should be securing formal compliance by ensuring that children attend appointments, which can result in children adopting more of a passive and disengaged role in youth justice processes. Indeed, the task of co-producing programmes or interventions as part of court orders, with their attendant compulsory and imposed elements, has proved challenging.

For child-friendly, positive approaches to youth justice to be effective, they require the formation of trusting relationships between children and practitioners that facilitate children’s meaningful participation and engagement with decision-making processes. Essential to these relationships is the importance attached to the accumulation and expenditure of social capital.

Practitioners can enhance children’s social capital by creating legitimate opportunities for the building of networks/contacts. If children are presented with such opportunities, they can receive status and recognition that can prove beneficial as part of their move away from crime and help with identity transformation. The benefits of trusting, constructive child-practitioner relationships can be supplemented by peer mentoring. Described as ‘desistance in practice’, this involves those with lived experiences of system contact providing advice and support to their peers experiencing issues that they can relate to.  Peer mentors can be an ‘authentic’ and ‘credible’ voice, an inspiration to others that change is possible and support their peers to influence the decision making process. They can genuinely say “I know how you feel… I’ve been through that”. They can offer advice and support, encourage children to attend appointments and engage with interventions.

Crucially, constructive approaches to youth justice involve putting children first throughout all stages of the system, promoting meaningful participation and engagement, trusting/empathic relationships, future-oriented, motivating, and strengths-based practices.

Sean Creaney, Edge Hill University
Stephen Case, Loughborough University

This article was originally published on the Beyond Youth Custody website. Read the original article.

Fashioning identity for burns survivors

Catherine Wilkinson, Edge Hill University and Bernie Carter, Edge Hill University

Acid attacks, throwing acid or another corrosive substance onto the body of an individual with the intention to disfigure, maim, torture, or kill, have almost doubled in the UK since 2012. A spate of attacks has been seen in 2017 and their number has soared in London in particular. Almost half of acid attacks have taken place in the capital.

The rise of these attacks led the home secretary, Amber Rudd, to announce plans to ban the sale of corrosive substances to those aged under 18. But what else can be done to help people who have suffered at the hands of these criminals? Fashion is one way in which those who have been disfigured can claim back some form of control over their appearance. But the Western fashion industry has rigid standards of bodily norms and places a preference on things like thinness, fitness and no imperfections.

The consequences of acid attacks are often life changing, leaving the victim permanently disfigured with scarring and in need of ongoing specialist treatment, such as skin grafts or eye surgery. But the damage is not only physical and victims of acid attacks often face mental trauma. Many survivors will experience anxiety, panic attacks, fear, depression, social isolation, loneliness and suicidal thoughts. People with burns and scars may also be confronted with staring, audible comments about their appearance, unsolicited questions about the cause of their disfigurement and other stigmatising behaviours.

The rise in acid attacks – and images of victims on the news and social media – has left a gap in public knowledge about the rehabilitation process for survivors. Particularly in relation to the process of acceptance, adjustment and the ways that they “manage” their new identity.

Business student Resham Khan survived an acid attack on her 21st birthday in London in July, sustaining burns to her face and body and damage to her left eye. Since then she has been blogging about what her make-up and beauty routine is like and shedding light on the difficult realities.

As my skin is tough, mixing lipsticks is difficult. My eyebrows have been burnt and grow a bit funny so they were proving difficult, so I just shaded them rather than trying to shape them into anything fancy.

Fashion and ‘body norms’

We are starting a new study looking into how fashion and clothing is used by burns survivors – specifically children and young people – to conceal, reveal or detract attention away from their burns and scars. This research hopes to uncover how clothing preferences change as the body is altered and to understand what practices burns survivors use when dressing their bodies. For instance, do burns survivors use clothing to hide their scars, or do they dress their bodies in ways that embrace their new identity?

We know that some individuals use coping strategies related to fashion and clothing. Research has found, for example, that older women use clothing to mask or compensate for things like flabby arms and necks and choose specific clothes to compensate for age-related health issues, such as weight gain and wrinkles.

We are also interested in compensatory clothing practices. For instance, research into coping with the physical disfigurement of mastectomy among breast cancer survivors has found that many women practice “compensatory femininity” – devoting special attention to their physical appearance, typically dressing up more for support group meetings and displaying carefully applied makeup and neatly styled hair (or wearing wigs and scarves). Doing so helped the women cope with the insecurity and embarrassment they felt about their appearance. We would like to find out whether such compensatory practices are in play with burns survivors. Do they pay greater attention to accessories and adornments when dressing than they did before their burn, for example?

We are also looking at the polarity between mainstream clothing (fashion) and clinical clothing, particularly pressure garments worn by burns survivors. The use of pressure garments is an important part of burns scar management, including the prevention and control of excess scar formation. In particular, pressure garments aid in reducing the scar formation and the deformities that result from overscarring (when scars grow lumpy or larger than the wound they are healing).

Pressure garments are made out of a very strong Lycra or polycotton material and are typically beige in colour. However, certain pressure garment manufacturers, such as Jobskin Ltd have begun to incorporate fashion into the design of the garments they manufacture, including personalisation, motifs, patterned zips and binding. Our study seeks to uncover other ways in which fashion can influence the design of pressure garments.

The ConversationWhile acid continues to be the weapon of choice on the street, it is important that health care professionals, clothing designers and manufacturers are aware of the varied ways that clothing and fashion can affect people living with burns and scars – and hopefully help them towards some kind of recovery.

Catherine Wilkinson, Lecturer in Children, Young People and Families, Edge Hill University and Bernie Carter, Professor of Children’s Nursing, Edge Hill University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Poor posture in people with disabilities can be fatal

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Robert Cadzow, 13, with brother Adam, 13, and mum Frances, using a gentle postural care system to align his body shape. David Cadzow, Author provided

Bernie Carter, Edge Hill University

Maintaining good posture is not something we think about in our everyday lives. We perhaps take it for granted that we can get up in between computer sessions, have a stretch while making a cup of tea or roll over in bed. And while good postural care is important for everyone, it can actually be a life-saver for people with physical disabilities.

People with disabilities can develop severe distortions to the symmetry of the shape of their body. This, in turn, leads to permanent shortening of the muscles resulting in asymmetries. As these asymmetries become more pronounced they can have significant consequences for the person’s health and well-being. They can result in severe and chronic pain typically associated with twisted spine (scoliosis) or hip dislocation.

They can also have life threatening consequences, such as difficulty swallowing and breathing and increased risk of chest infections. These knock-on effects have a major impact on the individual, their family and carers, and the health service. For people with very significant learning difficulties, telling someone about their pain is really problematic. It often means that other people have to assess their pain – in the case of children it is often their mothers who have to assess and manage it.

There is also a growing but largely unrecognised population of people at risk from postural problems. Many people with dementia or who have had a stroke have limited movement, are unable to sit and spend long periods of time in bed and would benefit from postural interventions that prevent distortion.

A fatal issue

X-rays showing the deterioration of a quadriplegic cerebral palsy sufferer’s posture.

One young man with quadriplegic cerebral palsy, who did not receive good care, developed a severe twist in his spine which ultimately caused his death at the age of 23. Fred (not his real name) was limited in the amount he could move himself, and so he was forced to stay in one position for much of the day. Gravity pulled his muscles and bones down which caused a severe twist in his spine. This was not a quick process. You can see from his X-rays that Fred’s posture gradually deteriorated as he got older. Fred died of health complications which were the direct result of the dramatic changes to his body shape. His lungs were compressed and his pelvis was tucked up underneath his rib cage.

These dramatic changes to a person’s body are not inevitable. Fred, like many others, may not have died at such a young age if he had received good postural care in childhood.

Postural care is a gentle intervention that protects body shape before distortion occurs and reestablishes a more normal body shape once distortion has begun. The UK and Scandinavia lead the world in postural care but even in the UK treatment is variable around the country. People in some areas receive very good care while others do not. Preliminary results from a questionnaire developed by Changing Our Lives shows that people who received better postural care reported higher levels of general well-being.

Stanley Waugh, five, using a postural care system that protects his body shape. Rob Price Photography. Rob Price Photography, Author provided

Furthermore, people who were actively involved in developing plans to protect their body shape reported that their posture did not deteriorate as much as those who were not actively involved. This may suggest that when people are involved in creating their path to health – rather than just passively receiving plans from healthcare professionals – they are more motivated to carry out day-to-day postural maintenance.

Challenges and myths

Unfortunately, not everyone who needs support for their body shape gets access to support. Even if they do, it is not always tailored to their needs. The knowledge base and postural care skills of health professionals are often poor and there is a clear need for improved training.

There are also plenty of myths that can get in the way of promoting good body shape, such as that once you reach adulthood body shape won’t change anymore. This is false. Gravity continues to have an impact over time but changes in body shape can be corrected. The “no pain, no gain” mentality needs to be challenged because we now know that the best results come with gentle, respectful intervention.

It is also a widespread belief that people don’t need postural care if they can walk. But children and adults who may move well during the day may still adopt destructive postures at night and so need support.

Training programmes focus on identifying need, understanding how and why a person’s body shape changes, understanding the principles of 24-hour postural care, considering a person’s individual needs and being able to undertake physical assessments. These programmes can show positive changes in knowledge and confidence.

Postural care needs to fit into the life, desires and aspirations of the individual, rather than being a one-size-fits-all treatment plan. While sit-skiing may appeal to some people as part of their postural care plan, others may want to swim or sail or stretch.

Postural care for people with limited movement can make a huge difference to their quality of life by, for example, promoting sleep. It can result in reduced pain, reduce chances of hip dislocation and reduce the need for surgery and other interventions, which saves the individual unnecessary pain as well as saving the NHS money.

The ConversationGood postural care provision across the country would mean that fewer people will end up with severely twisted bodies and health complications like Fred. Engaging people and their families in actively planning and executing their own postural care has genuine potential to improve lives.

Bernie Carter, Professor of Children’s Nursing, Edge Hill University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.