THE BLOG
23/10/2015 12:46 BST | Updated 23/10/2016 06:12 BST

Unlocking Potential: Children Held in Isolation

The BBC's latest film presents Mini's life as one long missed opportunity, in spite of his potential. My hope is that these changes help us to avoid turning out another generation of missed opportunities.

A couple of years ago the BBC aired a documentary called Mini: A Life Revisited documenting the life of Michael 'Mini' Cooper.

In 1974 Michael, then 11-years-old, had been placed in care after setting fire to his home, a church and a factory.

The following year, the BBC broadcast a film about him which shocked the nation. Mini was cherubic-looking, likeable and fiercely intelligent ... but utterly unrepentant.

If you haven't seen it, it's worth seeking out on the internet.

The update filled viewers in on Michael's life since the 1975 film and the results were depressing. He'd spent the rest of his childhood in care and, on release, had turned to drink and ended up back in adult prison following another arson attack.

The message of both films was clear - Michael had been utterly failed by the old care system.

Thankfully, forty years on we lock up far fewer children than we ever have - around 1,000, compared with roughly 3,000 seven years ago. But a report we released this week - Unlocking Potential - shows a lot of work is still needed to improve the system so that young people reintegrate into society more successfully on release.

Our findings are that some children spend long periods isolated from other children, education and physical activity and that this affects reintegration. We were provided evidence that some spend up 22 hours a day locked away on their own. In addition, black and mixed race children are three times more likely to suffer isolation.

There are often valid reasons for placing children in isolation for short periods of time such as diffusing situations when other people or property is at risk from violence.

Separating children for short periods can enable them to cool off if a situation becomes heated, whilst some elect to be isolated to help them de-stress.

But it's also clear that too many children are being placed in isolation for too long. And this seems to be a particular issue in larger units where there are also lower child-staff ratios.

The Istanbul Statement details how solitary confinement can have a detrimental effect on a person's mental health. Children in the secure estate often already suffer from some kind of psychological trauma, so isolation could well have a more detrimental effect on them.

That is why we are asking the Government to review larger insitituions and place children in units where they can get the quality of relationships and education needed.

We also want practices where children are placed in isolation for long periods to end immediately. Separately, we want the Youth Justice Board to investigate why black and mixed children are isolated more often than other children.

Isolation as a behaviour management tool should only be used for the minimum period necessary and children should be returned to association with their peers as soon as circumstances allow.

We should never forget that children are in the secure estate because they have committed crimes. But they do deserve the opportunity to rehabilitate and live out fulfilled adult lives.

The BBC's latest film presents Mini's life as one long missed opportunity, in spite of his potential. My hope is that these changes help us to avoid turning out another generation of missed opportunities.