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.


In a few days we have seen an MP’s past become a problem, an inquiry launched, a resignation, a suspension and any number of new stories and commentators emerge.

In a few days an obscure back bench MP has been on every news and political programme with his party playing catch up to deal with the backlash.

This week’s political soap opera revolves around one Jared O’Mara.  Elected (to some people’s surprise) in June in Sheffield Hallam, the backbencher had been pretty low profile. In fact, he has yet to speak in Parliament. But now, initially thanks to stories on one of the leading political blogs, his distant past and more recent actions have caused a major headache for the Labour Party.

In a nutshell, a series of online posts by O’Mara were found which managed to offend or insult many people. These included a suggestion that musician Jamie Cullen should be sodomised. While these were written well before he became an MP, allegations then emerged about insulting behaviour towards women earlier this year. And in the way of these stories, a steady stream of quotes, accusations, allegations and attacks began.

Rival political parties poured oil on the flames and Labour was, at first, seen to be dithering in the face of increasingly shocking revelations.

Frankly, O’Mara has no future in politics now. It is inconceivable that Labour, or any other party, will select him as a candidate again.

But that aside, the whole episode is also a major problem for the Labour Party.

So what options remain for party managers and activists?

One argument which has been deployed, for example in the Guardian, is that when the snap election was called there certainly wasn’t time to look into the background of every candidate.

In other words the Labour Party is a victim here. I am afraid that won’t wash.

It is inconceivable that in a seat which was likely to attract media focus, having been surprisingly close in 2015, there was no time to do a bit of basic research. Labour MP Lucy Powell, speaking on ITV’s After the News programme, made it clear that candidates are and should be vetted. And for anyone to carry the Labour Party name, or any other party’s name, an official from the party has to sign shortly before polling day. (For the political geeks out there, this is someone called the Designated Nominating Officer – I have been one myself in the past).

So, given the victim response is not available, Labour retains a number of options.

Launching an investigation and removing the whip from O’Mara were obvious, and necessary steps. But the party now has a timing problem. At some point the investigation will have to have results. Labour will want to make sure that any announcements likely to cause more problems are far enough away from the elections in May, which in 2018 include all the Councils in Greater London.

Labour will also need to find ways of responding to accusations that allegations had been made, but not dealt with, in the past.

The party will also need to be ready to deal with an increasing number of stories on this topic. Even relatively minor accusations will gain strength as they now have media salience. The Sophie Evans accusations for example (she tells of being insulted by O’Mara in his bar) had been published previously and gained little attention. Now of course they gain importance. And I am sure journalists are going through the Trip Advisor page about O’Mara’s bar to contact anyone who posted reviews mentioning violence or insults.

Labour also faces a stakeholder problem. Because of the range of insults posted by O’Mara in his younger days, a potentially large number of groups have been affected. Among these are groups Labour would generally expect to be supportive.

So, what can Labour do?

The instinct in a political party to protect one of your own is a strong one, and some, such as Angela Rayner and Shami Chakrabarti have attempted to do this (Chakrabarti’s comments are some way into the story in this link). However, any further vocal defence would be a massive mistake. It will simply look as if the party is applying different standards to different people.

Labour also needs to repair any damaged links with particular groups, but to do it quietly. LGBT campaigners, for example, may well want to know why O’Mara’s online commentsweren’t spotted. The party will need to be in receive rather than broadcast mode to rebuild any lost confidence.

They key thing the party can do however, is to make it clear that its processes will be such that candidates with baggage like this will get caught in an improved filter. No one wants MPs to be identikit. But party members and managers do need to be able to select candidates without the worry of stories emerging into scandal.

Talking about periods with boys — how easy is it?

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Michael Richards, Edge Hill University

Periods are something women and girls have been having for thousands of years – it’s the reason you and I are even here. And yet around the world, there’s still an element of shame associated with a woman’s monthly cycle.

Menstruation is associated with smells, mess, blood, gore, impurity and disgust. Which is probably why many women say they feel uncomfortable talking about their periods. This leads to women suffering in silence when it comes to “that time of the month” – hiding away from what some deem a “dirty secret”.

This is in part why a recent report has called for boys, as well as girls, to learn about periods and the menstrual cycle at school. Plan International UK, the charity behind the report, suggests there is a need to talk more about the issue as many girls feel embarrassed – with the menstrual cycle tarnished with stigma and taboo.

Their findings also reveal that one in seven of the girls and women interviewed said they did not know what was happening when they first started their period – clearly demonstrating a need for more to be done to teach young women about what’s to come.

Bad education

Yet according to the Department of Education in England, discussing menstruation is technically part of the curriculum for science. Despite this, though, almost 15% of young people said they were taught nothing at school about menstruation.

Previous research has also shown that teacher attitudes and classroom resources may prolong the negative stereotypes associated with menstruation. And for many girls, this lack of support in the classroom can lead to feelings of shame around the whole subject. Some girls are even missing school because they cannot afford sanitary products.

This clearly then goes way beyond playground embarrassment or bullying – it is a far wider political and health inequalities issue.

While the idea of tackling this head on and talking to boys in schools sounds good in practice, from my experience as an educational sexual health worker in central Manchester it is difficult to discuss sensitive issues such as menstruation with boys and young men.

The overriding responses tend to be that girls get “moody” or “smell funny” during periods, and in general, they want to evade talking about the subject because it is a “girl’s problem”.

Periods, not just for the girls? Shutterstock

But I have noticed that boys tend to have these attitudes more when they are in mixed groups, rather than single sex groups. In front of the girls, they tend to be more disrespectful and unsympathetic about the issues associated with periods for girls – and primarily see any association with the vagina as sexual.

When they are alone, however, with no girls present, I’ve noticed how boys have more understanding about periods than they let on in front of the girls – even being sympathetic about the difficulties women face.

But even though many of these boys have the knowledge to understand what menstruation means, and many are even sympathetic towards girls, in my experience, it is difficult to challenge the taboos associated with menstruation with boys and young men.

Not just for girls

For this to change, schools needs to be more open about the importance of menstruation and they need to be more sympathetic towards the stigma girls face. For a start, schools should provide resources and information that girls can access. This will help them understand – rather than feel scared and fearful – what is happening to their bodies during puberty.

This is one step towards taking the taboo out of menstruation, because to achieve gender equality on this issue, girls need to feel able to talk about their periods and challenge the discrimination that is associated with menstruation and developing girls bodies. And boys can play a big role in this – if they also get the right support and resources.

The ConversationThe fact remains that many adult men – and women – are still highly uncomfortable talking about periods. And given that Plan International UK found that almost half of girls aged 14 to 21 are embarrassed by menstruation, it’s time this changed – period.

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

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

Macho myth busting: working class men aren’t all too tough to seek help

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Paul Simpson, Edge Hill University and Michael Richards, Edge Hill University

Men are bad at looking after their health, or so the received wisdom goes. Indeed, evidence has shown that men have significantly higher death rates than women from cancer due to delays in seeking medical help.

These doctor-avoiding tendencies have also been shown to be more common among working-class men – who are thought to place more emphasis on “toughness” and are more inclined to take risks when it comes to smoking and drinking. But there is evidence that questions some of these “macho” stereotypes. Men are beginning to look to support groups for help and our own research has pointed to a subtle change in workinmg-class masculinity.

Our study was based on the findings from three focus groups conducted with 15 men, aged 23-68, from three cities in northwest England. The men attended different support groups and experienced disadvantage because of low income and/or mental health difficulties. We asked them to take photographs of what “health” meant to them to aid discussion and we received more than 100 images.

The study found that experience of disadvantage because of low income and mental health issues had encouraged men to engage in what have been called “communities of practice”. These communities emerged within various support groups that were organised around football and mental health, being a father and for people trying to manage on lower incomes. They provide opportunities for men to support each other “informally” outside official, medical and care environments. They also provided opportunities for the men to think as a group about their mental and physical health.

Attitudes observed within these communities suggest a broadening of working-class masculinity that recognises the value of emotional expression and mutual support. They also encouraged group members to question the mental health advice they were receiving from doctors and dominant ideas about healthy eating.

Challenging stereotypes

Men, particularly those in working-class communities, face pressures to be strong: to be “breadwinners” and to control their emotions. But one man who took part in the study – Geoff, aged in his early 50s and from Merseyside – used photographs of his achievements in a football and mental health support group to talk about his recovery from severe mental health problems. He said he recovered thanks to the emotional support available in his community group:

I have no shame whatsoever talking about mental health. Until we can talk as openly about mental health as we do physical health, there will be a stigma and if I can talk about… the dark times… hopefully that touches someone else and makes them reach out for help. One of the most difficult things to say is – like coming out – ‘that’s what it is’. It’s making that admission. Football has been a huge part of my life. It was always where I could be myself. The lads are like any other football team but we take it one step further because not only do we care for each other, we actually counsel each other.

Geoff’s words show how this support group has normalised talking about fears and anxieties. His use of the metaphor “coming out” shows the importance of owning one’s emotional vulnerability. This is a far cry from “manly” suppression of or distancing from so-called “feminine” emotions. Geoff also spoke of the group as helping men to express their authentic emotional selves.

Indeed, Geoff said that for group members football was “their medication”. This was echoed by another study participant. Mike, aged in his early 20s, compared the benefits of the support group in helping him to face bereavement with “the doctors who just give you pills”. And referring to a photograph of himself making papier-maché figures with his children, Darren (early 40s from Manchester) described how sharing thoughts within a self-help group for dads had “helped me bond with my kids” and had helped him “become the dad I am now where I can play with the kids and then get on with housework”.

Community groups can help men facing disadvantages to develop emotional resources. Their stories also show how health is a collective rather than a purely individual enterprise.

Places to relax

Another significant theme appeared in stories about men’s favourite places to relax. Referring to a photograph of his bike on New Brighton Promenade, overlooking the Liverpool waterfront, Daniel explained:

I’ll often peddle to New Brighton. Nine miles there, nine back and it’s just sea and sand all the way. You feel like you’re abroad. So, that’s nice mentally rather than physically. I just look back at the city where I grew up and think about life and it really helps.

Daniel’s words suggest freedom and the view of Liverpool provides emotional as well as physical distance: a space of escape to consider his life’s journey. In all focus groups, men contrasted such places to unhealthy “mean streets” that represented urban blight, hostility, disconnection and social problems.

The ConversationContrary to the stereotype, working-class men who belong to support groups are no strangers to seeking help. It’s clear that support groups are helping men get the help they need and they could be key in taking steps towards reducing male suicide rates and addressing wider health issues. But more needs to be done to raise awareness of these groups and more funding needs to be set aside to make them accessible for all.

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

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

Understanding childhood trauma and its impact on offending

Although not all traumatised individuals offend, it does seem to be a feature of anti-social behaviour and serious offences. A disproportionate number of children who offend and enter the justice system present with complex, often unmet health and social care needs, and have experienced adverse childhood events. Indeed, many of the children in the justice system have experienced some sort of trauma. As many as 91 per cent of young people who have committed violent offences experienced abuse or loss prior to becoming involved in the justice system. Such unresolved trauma can manifest at a different point in time. However, until quite recently this was not properly acknowledged or understood. For example, the Youth Justice Board recently published a briefing paper on trauma-informed youth justice practice.

Although trauma defies easy definition, it can be explained as a psychological or emotional disturbance, resulting from exposure to intense or chronic stress. This could include being a victim of domestic violence or assault, sexual abuse or serious injury. Responses to trauma can include flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, hypervigilance, anger, depression and them avoiding places that are a reminder of the event. It can affect a child’s ability to understand processes or comply with court order requirements. Ignoring underlying trauma can not only result in poor outcomes in terms of levels of engagement and participation but also severely restrict children’s life chances. A range of factors including how resilient children are in terms of emotional strength and the support they are receiving from family members and/or professionals, can determine the severity of such trauma. What can happen is children self-harm by way of substance abuse as a coping mechanism. This self-medication is a way children adapt to a traumatic event but does not help and can, of course, make the situation worse. It is a dysfunctional way of coping.

For too long there has been a lack of resources and attention paid to the issue of childhood trauma. With children who commit offences, we tend to focus on the behaviour and not the underlying issues or problems that have affected them.

There must be greater emphasis on raising staff awareness, and training on the importance of recognising how traumatic experiences can be damaging to children, personally, emotionally and developmentally. Trauma-informed youth justice practice involves promoting positive outcomes in a person-centred and strengths-based way – reducing the likelihood of children feeling rejected by those in authority and preventing non-compliance and the instigation of breach proceedings.

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.

‘Wear red, get noticed’ – and other subtle psychological ways colour affects us

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Red makes a big impact, studies show. Twinsterphoto/shutterstock

Geoff Beattie, Edge Hill University

I notice that my office is mainly colourless, or perhaps more accurately insipid in colour, a dull brown, the colour of old tea – the desk, the shelves, the table. A once bright red bromeliad now dead or dying on the window sill has turned a dull autumn brown. Beyond that, outside the window, is the dull brown of autumn on a wet, windy day.

One object stands out: the bright red university diary. It’s the first thing that I notice when I enter the room. It draws my eyes to it involuntarily, like a red traffic light or the red marks on an essay. I go to reach for it but pause: perhaps it’s the week ahead that I can’t cope with, the new term, the tutorials, the lectures, the meetings, the grant application deadlines, the proofs of my new book. Surely it’s not the colour of the object itself, the red cover that is a non-conscious warning for me to stop?

A great deal has been written over the years about the effects of colour on human psychology, and this has been carried into the popular imagination in various ways, from guidelines on how to decorate your house to ensure a calm and peaceful space, to how to attract a partner, or even win at sport.

The appeal of colour

Some of the earliest applied research into colour was carried out by Louis Cheskin at the Color Research Institute of America founded in the 1930s. A pioneer in the field of marketing psychology, Cheskin argued that consumers make automatic and non-conscious assessments of products based not just on the product itself but derived from all its characteristics as determined by each of the senses. One major sensory feature is colour. These non-conscious sensory impressions from the product or its packaging, Cheskin argued, can be transferred directly onto our perception of the product itself, including its perceived value, price and quality.

In one study, outlined in Vance Packard’s 1957 classic The Hidden Persuaders, housewives tried out three different detergents in packaging that was either yellow, blue, or blue with a splash of yellow. The verdict was that the detergent in the yellow box was too harsh for their clothes (“It ruined them”, many of the respondents complained), whereas the detergent in the blue box was considered not strong enough, leaving the clothes still dirty. The detergent in the packaging coloured blue with splashes of yellow was “just right”. The detergent was, however, identical in all three. It seems that non-conscious associations, manipulated by the marketer, could determine our preferences.

Packard also described how changing the colour of the 7-Up can, with a 15% increase in the amount of yellow on the can but no alteration to the drink itself, led to complaints that the flavour had become “too lemony”, the consumers having been non-consciously primed with the lemon association through the yellow on the can. This research questioned the model of consumers as rational agents, and started to delve more deeply into how the human mind works. But this was science driven by profit.

Wear red, get noticed

Contemporary psychological research seems to support some of these ideas about the effects of colour on perception. In a 2008 study by Andrew Elliot and Daniela Niesta from the University of Rochester, men rated pictures of women as “more attractive” and “more sexually desirable” when the photos were presented for only a few seconds on a red rather than a white background. However, it didn’t affect women’s perceptions of the attractiveness of other women, nor whether men saw the women in the pictures as “likeable”, “kind” or “intelligent”. They concluded:

Human and nonhuman male primates respond to red … As much as men might like to think that they respond to women in a thoughtful, sophisticated manner, it appears that at least to some degree, their preferences and predilections, are, in a word, primitive.

Some have taken these kinds of results to suggest that women (and men) should exploit the unconscious in subtle ways to make themselves more attractive to the opposite sex – but it is the subtle red watch strap rather than the red dress that the study suggests would be most effective.

‘Don’t mind me, I’m just quietly asserting my dominance.’ Viorel Sima/Shutterstock

The colour red, is also an evolutionarily-evolved sign of dominance among males in the animal kingdom, which appears also to have effects in humans. A study by Russell Hill and Robert Barton from the University of Durham found that sports teams that wore red kits were more likely to win than those that did not.

Nature’s warning

But, of course, dominance and sex are not the only biological and symbolic associations of the colour red. Red is also associated with danger and warning. Another study by Andrew Elliott and colleagues outlined the effects of the colour red on children’s test performance. They found that when children were left to solve anagrams for five minutes, if their participant number was written in red they solved on average less than 4.5, but when their number was written in green or black, they solved on average more than 5.5. They also examined the effects of altering the colour of the cover of an IQ test booklet, finding that when the cover was red the children performed less well.

Subsequent measures of brain activity using EEG scans revealed that those working with a red-covered booklet showed relatively more right frontal lobe activation than those with green or grey test covers. According to the researchers, this sort of activity is associated with avoidance behaviour. They concluded:

The findings suggest that care must be taken in how red is used in achievement contexts and illustrate how colour can act as a subtle environmental cue that has important influences on behaviour.

The Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman reinforced a lot of these findings in his best-selling book Thinking Fast and Slow, in which he delineated two systems of thinking: one fast, automatic and non-conscious, the other slow, deliberate and conscious. Colour affects our fast, non-conscious thinking in ways that we are only now starting to understand, with potentially broad implications for education, sport, and all manner of human relations.

The ConversationDoes Manchester United’s home football strip (red) give them an unfair advantage? Some psychologists would no doubt say yes, although this is contested. Is my red diary warning me off, or am I just overworked? I am of course an entirely rational man, but I notice that I’ve chosen a blue diary for next year.

Geoff Beattie, Professor of Psychology, Edge Hill University

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

Ambitious leader speech sees Vince Cable aiming for the top job

Paula Keaveney, Edge Hill University

As the Liberal Democrats met for their first conference since the 2017 general election, many were feeling disappointed at the state of things. The party came away with a mere 12 election victories after mistakenly believing the Brexit referendum had given it a branding which would help it capture more votes. Yet despite disappointment, party managers reported a higher than average conference attendance and membership numbers remain high.

Members met to reflect on the past, look to the future and begin working on how to take the party forward in an increasingly muddled political environment. Lib Dem conferences are a mix of decision-making votes and key note speeches and the leader’s speech is traditionally the final session of the event. This year that fell to Vince Cable.

Leaders’ conference speeches are difficult at the best of times. They have to communicate to party members in the hall, to (often) cynical journalists who have “heard it all before”, to members of the “political community”, and to potential voters, members and others who will only catch bits of the speech on the news. And whatever the leader wants to say, there will be questions which need to be answered and fires which need to be put out. Anyone reading the Alastair Campbell Diaries, or indeed the accounts of John Major’s time as Conservative party leader, will know just how fraught and last minute the speech preparations can be.

And of course if it is your first run out as Leader, the pressure is worse.

So today Cable had a lot to do. He had to look and sound like a leader, positioning both himself and his party in the most beneficial way. And he was certainly ambitious about it.

When, a few days before his speech, he told an interviewer that he does genuinely believe he can become prime minister, some may have thought that this was simply the answer to expect from a politician. But a theme which sprung out from Cable’s speech was government. “We are the government of the future,” he said at one point. And he ended with a call to head “back to government”.

This is actually quite risky. Many will remember David Steel’s rallying cry at the Liberal Assembly in 1981 when he called on members to “go back to your constituencies and prepare for government”. Government for the Liberals, now the Lib Dems, didn’t arrive until 2010, and only then because of the need for a coalition. The Steel phrase is often recalled with raised eyebrows at party conference. (It also became a regular in sketches at the Liberal Revue or the conference Glee Club.) And of course when Steel made his speech, the SDP Liberal Alliance was riding high in the polls.

So for Cable, head of the group of just 12 MPs, to make such a bold statement is a risky piece of positioning. But it is also necessary. For Lib Dems to have an obvious purpose, they must be seen as working towards that end. And that end must seem possible.

Safe pair of hands

Another theme of Cable’s speech was the need for people with experience who could take a grown up approach to things. He devoted significant time to talking about ministerial work and achievements. This is not an unknown practice for a political leader but it is a little unusual to look back more than two years. However, if Cable’s pitch is about being able to govern, there will be an ongoing need to stress examples of this work by key people such as Norman Lamb and Jo Swinson, both MPs, and Lynne Featherstone, now in the House of Lords.

As ever in a Leader’s speech there were short points on issues which would go down well with the party and also garner soundbites. Donald Trump’s state visit should be cancelled, the hall was told. Votes at 16 would be the centre of the party’s campaign for political reform.

The ConversationIt’s never clear how to measure the success of a conference speech in a non-election year. Is it about membership increase, good media coverage, more donations, poll ratings? For this piece of positioning however, what will matter is whether the message can be credibly sustained over the years to come.

Paula Keaveney, Senior Lecturer in Public Relations and Politics, Edge Hill University

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

The Mecury Prize is an analogue award in a digital age

Richard Witts, Edge Hill University

Perhaps you have dutifully trawled through each of the 12 albums that make up the 26th Mercury Music Prize shortlist, thinking as you go, “I’ve just got used to streaming, so why should I back-pedal into old track-by-track ways?” Yet this is how the winner gets picked from the 12 albums by the 12 – such is Mercury’s devotion to the duodecimal – judges.

These judges are asked to argue about each album as some sort of fully-rounded artistic statement. Finally, the judges must unanimously choose one above the others. Whichever artist wins, gains a statuette, £25,000 in cash and the promise (but only a promise) of increased sales and a ride up the charts the following week. But it is formally the album format that wins – as the prize has ended up as a defender of old-school music production and consumption.

The Mercury Prize was set up in 1992 as an alternative to the BRIT Awards by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI). It made sense that the record industry should want to promote its independent labels at a time when it had been profitably reviving old albums in the new CD format.

“Mercury” itself was a telephone company that lost its name in 1997 when it was amalgamated with its parent company, Cable & Wireless Communications. It was the show’s first sponsor. Since then, there have been six prize sponsors, the current being Hyundai. None of the sponsors have been able to replace the “Mercury” name with their own, however. It has become a brand like the Turner Prize for art, with which it shares a certain reputation for “making and breaking” artists.

Meanwhile, the BPI’s thumbprint on Mercury can be found in the rule that a solo artist or 50% of a band must be British. Mercury has also largely promoted those musicians either side of the mainstream, including artists like PJ Harvey (twice a winner) and alt-J (nominated again this year). Controversially, this year saw the nomination of the very mainstream Ed Sheeran.

Mercury’s organisers are spoilt for choice because over 200 albums are submitted annually by record companies. Over the first 10 years, one modern classical album – nearly always one – was also included. A classical expert was appointed to the jury in the hope of persuading the others of the album’s merit. But a classical artist has never won and that item was soon exposed as mere tokenism.

Artists at their best

Since then, it has been jazz that has embraced the “token” role (this year, Laura Jurd’s Dinosaur). The organisers insist that the jury looks beyond genres and welcomes acts from across musical styles. But in 2013 it was pointed out that a heavy metal album has never been chosen for the prize. As a defence, it was ingeniously claimed by Mercury chair of judges, Simon Frith, that metal is not a genre but a “niche”.

There is one thing that takes place at the ceremony that I believe has an impact on the jury’s final choice but has little to do with the album. Each of the 12 artists are asked to give a live performance, perhaps to justify the television coverage. The show takes place during the post-summer festival circuit, so the artists are often at their best.

It was at the 2007 event that Amy Winehouse made her first appearance after illness and redeemed herself in the eyes of the industry with a rendition of Love is A Losing Game. It did not end up winning her the prize but the fact that a live performance takes place on the night of the vote – when the judging panel is trying to come its final decision – surely affects the view of the jury members and could sway them in a new direction. Furthermore, the artists do not, of course, perform the full album on which they are being judged.

The ConversationIf the Mercury Prize is to last it will have to hope that the music buying public will carry on consuming albums which provide “artistic statements” or it may have to consider changing its vetting and voting policy to a completely new set of terms that reflect the practice of streaming. It may have its detractors but the project does bring the work of 12 artists to the public’s attention who might otherwise struggle to be heard. After all, Mercury was the god of communication and business.

Richard Witts, Reader in Music and Sound, Edge Hill University

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