Secure care
Secure care in Scotland

Secure care is among the most intensive and restrictive forms of care available to children in Scotland. The Secure Accommodation (Scotland) Regulations 2013 and Public Service Reform (Scotland) Act 2010  define secure accommodation as accommodation provided for the purpose of restricting the liberty of children in a residential establishment, where care services are provided. Children can be cared for in locked care settings up to the age of 18 due to the extremely high levels of needs, risk and vulnerabilities experienced in these children’s lives. Secure care aims to provide intensive support, care and education to keep these children safe and to meet their needs, improve wellbeing and promote positive outcomes. Placement in secure care can be necessary and provide the right interventions for children to protect them and keep them and others safe at certain points in their lives (CYCJ, 2020a; Independent Care Review, 2020).

Children in secure care are some of our most vulnerable, disadvantaged, distressed and excluded in society (CYCJ, 2020). Research has shown that the prevalence of various Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) is substantially higher amongst the secure care population than amongst those in the community, with significant numbers of children in secure encountering both relative poverty and community deprivation (Gibson, 2020; 2021). 

Secure care, accommodation and education in Scotland can be provided for 84 children (with six additional ‘emergency’ or ‘respite’ places across the centres which would normally only be used if required and on a short-term basis) aged 10-18 through:

See Secure Accommodation Network Scotland and Scottish Parliament Justice Committee for more information.

Each secure care centre has a number of locked children’s houses, each comprising individual en-suite bedrooms and each with its own communal living, dining and relaxation spaces. The individual children’s houses are connected to a school or education base, recreational spaces, activities rooms and areas where children can spend time with family and others they care about, which are either in each children’s house or another linked building. The children’s houses and secure care centres are staffed at all times.

Secure care is first and foremost a form of care, aiming to provide therapeutic, trauma-informed care and support. Secure care is deemed to provide more age-appropriate facilities, offering more relationship-based and therapeutic, trauma and attachment informed support, a far greater ratio of staff to children, and a more child-centred environment and design than YOIs. Secure care centres are approved and licenced by the Scottish Government and registered, monitored and inspected by the Care Inspectorate and Education Scotland. Staff in secure care centres must be registered and qualified in relation to care and education (Gough, 2016).

The Secure Care Pathway and Standards Scotland set out what all children in or on the edges of secure care should expect across the continuum of intensive supports and services. The Pathway and Standards provide a framework for ensuring children’s rights are respected and improving experiences and outcomes for these children. They are not service led, rather they follow a child’s potential journey before, during and after a stay in secure care and are written from the child’s perspective. The Pathway is made up of 44 Standards focusing on the areas that children and young people who have been in or on the edges of secure care detailed were the most important to them and had the greatest impact on their experiences. The Standards are what everyone in the system should expect: for children and young people, their families, staff involved in providing secure care, and those professionals involved in supporting children before and after any potential stay in secure care.

Family members should where possible and appropriate be involved throughout a child’s journey before, during and after any stay in secure care. This should include involvement and influence in any assessments, decisions or plans about the child’s care and support. Children have a right to maintain contact with their families and those they care about, except in exceptional cases. The child and their family should be involved in decisions about how and when they are supported to keep in touch and actively supported and encouraged to stay connected. Support to family members in their own right is also important.

Partnership working with the child, family members, and all relevant professionals is fundamental in ensuring positive outcomes and successful reintegration.

Children’s Rights

“Depriving a child of their liberty infringes on one of their most fundamental human rights and impinges on associated rights to freedom of association and family life” (Scottish Government, 2013, p.3). Under Article 37 of the UNCRC “…no child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily. The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child…shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time”. Whilst a child is deprived of their liberty, their needs and age must be respected; their rights upheld; they must have access to legal and other assistance and be able to challenge their detention; and have a right to family contact. Children have the right to be treated in a manner that is consistent with their sense of dignity and worth, requiring the use of institutions specifically applicable to children and that promote the child’s reintegration and assuming of a constructive role in society, thus enshrining a focus on reintegration support and throughcare (Article 40). In addition, services and supports should be made available to fulfil children’s rights to health and healthcare (Article 24); education (Article 28 and 29); leisure (Article 31); and to promote physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration of children who are the victims of neglect, exploitation, abuse, torture or any other form of cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment, in an environment which fosters the health, self-respect and dignity of the child, be this in the community, secure care or custody (Article 39).

The establishments, services and facilities responsible for the care or protection of children, must conform to the standards established by competent authorities, particularly in respect of safety, health, in the number and suitability of their staff, and competent supervision (Article 3). Children’s rights to express their views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child, and the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child must also be upheld (Article 12). The United Nations Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty (The Havana Rules) and The Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (The Beijing Rules) further reiterate and extend the above.

Routes to secure care

Children can be placed in secure care through a variety of routes (CYCJ, 2019):

The responsibilities for providing (either by delivering or purchasing) secure accommodation services, placements and transport vary dependent on the child’s circumstances and legal status (see CYCJ (2019) and Scottish Government (2018)). Children from out with Scotland can also be placed in Scotland’s secure care centres. Scotland Excel manages the contract with the four independently run charitable secure care centres on behalf of the 32 local authorities and the Scottish Government. The secure care service specification (available for Scottish Government and local authorities from Scotland Excel) establishes a baseline for the delivery of secure care services to children.

Responsibilities for children in secure care

For children on remand

For those on remand, the local authority is responsible for the placement, payment for this placement, and transport to and during the child’s time in secure care.

For sentenced children

For children sentenced under section 44 of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995: Children can be sentenced under s.44 where they have appeared at court under summary procedure; have pled or been found guilty of an offence and the Sheriff has ordered that the child be detained in residential accommodation for a period not exceeding one year. It is for the local authority to determine the appropriate residential placement and this can include secure accommodation under regulation 12 if the requirements under regulation 11 of the Secure Accommodation (Scotland) Regulations 2013 are met. The child may only be kept in secure accommodation for so long as the Chief Social Work Officer and head of unit considers necessary. The local authority is responsible for the placement, payment for this placement and transport to and during the child or young person’s stay in secure care.

For children sentenced under sections 205(2) (all children under 18 convicted of murder) or section 208 (that is a child aged under 16 or aged 16/17 and subject to a Compulsory Supervision Order convicted under solemn procedures) of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 : The Scottish Government is responsible for the placement, payment for this placement and transport to and during the child’s stay in secure care.

Prior to admission to secure care

For children on remand

The local authority must have received a warrant from the court requiring that the child is remanded to secure accommodation or if the child has been committed to the care of the local authority, and agreement has been reached between the Chief Social Work Officer (CSWO) and the person in charge of the secure unit that this placement is necessary.

For sentenced children

For children sentenced under section 44 of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995: As above the CSWO and the person in charge of the secure unit must agree that this placement is necessary.

For children or young people sentenced under sections 205(2) or 208 of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 (as detailed above): The Children and Young Person’s (CYP) Placement Manager at Scottish Government must have received a warrant from the court and completed a placement order detailing which secure unit the child will go to.

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