G J Blumenthal (1985) The development of Secure Units in child care Aldershot: Gower ISBN 0 566 00868 8
G J Blumenthal was Durham County Architect when he became involved in the plans to rebuild Royston House at Aycliffe Community Home with Education. In order to carry out his brief he carried out extensive research into the history of Secure Units and the existing facilities in England and Wales and distilled his experience into this book.
- The reality of Secure Units for children does not match the literature.
- The children in Secure Units are largely not those for whom they were planned.
- Authorities will use a Secure Unit if there is one and open units if there isn’t.
- Relying on staff to provide security detracts from any treatment function.
- There has never been enough money to build adequate buildings.
- A Secure Unit is inherently conflictual, thus inhibiting the potential for treatment.
- There has been no agreement on the treatment to be provided in Secure Units nor the training needed by staff working in them.
- There has been no consistent documentation of problems in Secure Units or of attempts to remedy them.
- The design, facilities and space in most units have been poor.
- The problems in attitudes to Secure Units and in their physical design are many and various.
- Overall there has been
- a tendency to disregard security,
- over-optimism about the use of weaker components in design,
- slowness to admit problems and change out of date notions.
- Don’t blame children for design faults.
In Chapter 1 ‘Introduction’, he notes the capacity of heads and the Department of Health and Social Security to restrict information about Secure Units: the DHSS has also had ability to restrict information particularly where its involvement with the administration of the building programme is concerned. In addition, the great majority of the publications about the units have been produced or commissioned by the DHSS. This has made it possible for DHSS to emphasise the faults of others involved with the units by describing them at length while omitting to mention faults which can be ascribed to DHSS (pp. 1-2). He argues that the reality does not match the literature on Secure Units.
Part A: The Development of Secure Units
In Chapter 2 ‘The early history of the Secure Units‘, he describes how children were rarely locked up before the Second World War but the introduction of Detention Centres in 1948, an increase in absconding from Approved Schools and the 1959 Carlton School disturbances led to a report recommending separate facilities for:
- persistent absconders
- exceptionally unruly and uncooperative boys
- exceptionally disturbed boys
- medical misfits (epileptics, diabetics)
The first Secure Units were planned to offer a ‘brisk’ regime to boys from the first and second categories but the actual units turned out to be very different. In 1967 a working party looked at providing a Secure Unit for girls and in 1971 a Youth Treatment Centre, St Charles, was opened for severely disturbed children, though in practice the more seriously disturbed children ended up in Secure Units and not in St Charles.
Following the 1969 Children and Young Persons Act there was an increase in the use of Borstal and Detention Centres and in requests for secure places in the Community Homes system.
In Chapter 3 ‘The report on the development of the units’, he discusses the 1972 report Development of Secure Provision in the Community Homes which he describes as “an assemblage of ideas which are individually mainly reasonable, but some of which are incongruously juxtaposed, and some of which inconsistent” (p. 11), highlighting questionable ideas about regression and early diagnosis and the belief in control both by relationships and as far as humanely possible by the building.
He points out that the Glancy Report (Working Party on Security in NHS Hospitals, 1974) warned against staff providing security, that large units would be needed to justify the facilities and that there were huge inconsistencies between the Secure Units and psychiatric hospital reports.
In Chapter 4 ‘LAC(75)1′, he discusses the guidance on ‘intensive care units,’ noting that it represented an unsatisfactory compromise in that, while going for building security and better facilities in smaller units, it did not provide the resources to construct them. He suggests that politically the DHSS wished to close the single detention rooms that had been introduced after the Carlton House disturbances and that small units were more acceptable to local authorities who could build one that matched their needs.
Part B: The Functioning of the Units
In Chapter 5 ‘The children’, he notes that after 1969 the average age of children in Secure Units went down from around 16 or 17 to around 14 and that most of the children were not delinquent children but children from disturbed family backgrounds.
In Chapter 6 ‘Theory, assessment and treatment’, he summarises thinking on social rejection and delinquency, noting that children do not regard themselves as in need of treatment and that the considerable optimism that children could been changed by positive staff attitudes implied the need for better staffing. Research had shown that there was little success in institutions without change in the home environment. Moreover, it would be difficult to assess a child in a Secure Unit, especially if the institution itself was damaging.
In Chapter 7 ‘The effects of security’, he notes that institutions for problem children normally hold other problem children and being placed in a Secure Unit is more likely to increase resentment with the risk of further offences and/or self-abuse. Moreover, there is no tension release in a Secure Unit and there are invasions of privacy such as body searching.
Where conflicts and the expression of dominance lead to aggression, some children will retreat into neurotic responses. It is easier to organise the limited range of activities in groups, which both staff and children prefer, but this restricts the opportunities for individual interaction/treatment.
In Chapter 8 ‘Relationships’, he argues that staff can rarely enforce their will because, even if the group is fragmentary, some events will cause it to coalesce and ‘mood swings’ will affect behaviour. While children may appear dependent and attention seeking, they rarely respond to individual attention.
There are always issues of acceptance/rejection in a treatment situation and in a Secure Unit a conflict between the aims of the children to get out and the aims of the staff to treat. In this situation, it is vital that the buildings support the treatment.
In Chapter 9 ‘Organisation’, he highlights the tension between the need for staff to have autonomy and yet avoid inconsistency and the facts that, though there is agreement on the need for staff training, there is no agreement on the form it should take nor any experienced teachers. There is also the pressure on heads to ‘maintain control’ particularly in the face of external publicity.
In Chapter 10 ‘Behavioural methods’, he outlines some of the difficulties with behavioural methods and, while noting that Glenthorne and Dyson Hall claim success in using them, concludes that the case is not proven.
In Chapter 11 ‘Studies of the units’, he summarises the results of the studies to date which show that the units have
- no impact on re-offending
- a negative impact on the less criminally sophisticated
In Chapter 12 ‘The re-evaluation of the circular’, he discusses the circular (Department of Health and Security, 1981) which reduced the optimistic aims and laid down the criterion for admission as risk to self or others; it abandoned the idea of treatment, got rid of the smallest units, avoided admitting DHSS blunders and made a lot of questionable claims about the quality of the buildings. There was a notable absence of documentary evidence on which to assess the use of Secure Units and no attempt to solve the real problems of provision.
In Chapter 13 ‘The Secure Accommodation Regulations and their context’, he notes that the peak in places occurred in 1980 when a national strategy was abandoned. The 1983 regulations, while intended to protect the child, actually led to more court appearances. He notes that the closure of all the singleton units along with Redhill and Southwood and the opening of East Moor did not lead to a geographical shift in the population; those previously going to a Secure Unit in one area were being held in open units and vice versa in another area.
In Chapter 14 ‘Function and design’, he argues that, if security is sound, children will lose interest in testing it whereas, if the building can easily be damaged, it will become an outlet for children. How it is planned can affect possible types of interaction while its appearance will create impressions.
Part C: The Building Programme
In Chapters 15 to 19 he discusses the early units. The original units built in the 1960s at Redhill, Surrey, Kingswood, Bristol and Red Bank, Newton-le-Willows were designed for a ‘brisk’ regime; of them Red Bank is the most pleasant and overall reaches a level of provision unmatched in later units.
The buildings of the early 1970s were usually poor, lacking indoor recreation space, often no secure external area and under-provided with educational space. The emphasis on domestic appearance was accompanied by lack of recognition of the effect of damage and the inexperience of staff in preventing damage and absconding.
Royston House, Aycliffe, a unit for 14 children housed in a converted wing of an existing Approved School had no areas for dining, outdoor recreation or education, which were provided elsewhere. Though there was not much damage overall, there was enough to show that the building was not secure.
A change of view in the late 1970s as more children who had committed grave crimes were being admitted and increasing recognition of the lack of security and the problems of leaving the building to go to the sports hall or swimming led to the 1982 agreement to replace it.
Southwood arose out of a proposal from Cumberlow Lodge for an intensive care unit; this became the girls’ Secure Unit which had not been implemented following the 1967 report. It had a gymnasium and education provision but a combined lounge/dining area in each of the units and no external secure space. The aluminium windows were easy to remove for absconding and the glass could be splintered for self-injury; the softwood bedroom doors and board ceilings were easy to damage and the conservatory could be used to hide things as well as being a source of glass. Overall, it was gloomy and it closed in 1983.
Appleton House, Tennal, was a conversion of the earlier detention rooms and sick bay to provide seven study bedrooms, a living/dining room and kitchen, a hobbies room and an education area. The workshops and sports hall were outside the unit. The various weaknesses in the design were offset by stable staff and a generally stable peer group; it closed in 1984.
In Chapter 20 ‘The study for the guidance‘, he examines the 1974 Research and Development Project for the DHSS arguing that Clause 1.2.1 - “The most effective form of security is adequate personal supervision in the right place at the right time” - is a case of ‘over-drafting’ and should not be taken literally.
The use of concrete roofs, heating pipes in floor ducts and electric cables inside the building would all lead to maintenance difficulties. There was no provision for education or indoor recreation and a secure court feasible within the design guidelines would be too small. The area per child in the best provided units would be 38m2 per child whereas at Frankland Prison it was 69m2 per inmate. A later recommendation that the area for a secure court should be half the area of the building implied a maximum of 19m2 per child whereas at Frankland Prison the equivalent area would be around 130m2 per inmate.
He argues that the high level of staffing recommended, combined with the length of stay of the children, were inconsistent with the poor provision of facilities.
In Chapter 21 ‘The guidance’, he notes that the DHSS was not prepared to consider extras but then blamed staff failings for building failings. They also refer to the units as for children with “severe misbehaviour and/or persistent absconding” (p. 82) when in fact many children had committed grave offences or had long criminal and/or delinquent experience. But less disruptive or criminally experienced children were disadvantaged by them (Cawson and Martell, 1979).
He notes various problems with the recommendations regarding lighting, ventilation and whether the units should be single storey. In effect, the guidance follows the development report and ignores the LAC(75)1 requirements for recreation and for education and for some aspects of security.
In Chapter 22 ‘The evaluation of early buildings‘, he discusses the 1977 Report on Evaluation of Design in Use by Troup and Steele, noting that Spring Cottage was seen as acceptable even though it was not consistent with the 1969 Children and Young Persons Act or LAC(75)1, while Royston House, which was to be replaced five years later, was judged good. The overemphasis on economy meant that weaker and cheaper construction was pronounced adequate.
In Chapter 23 ‘The administration of the building programme’, he argues that the focus on cost and the avoidance of subjective issues for which no financial allowance was made meant it was impossible to amend the cost limits even when there was a demonstrable need.
Though LAC(75)1 says units should be ‘light and airy’ and ‘aesthetic,’ these qualities are costly to provide and so the units were unpleasantly bare. Moreover, the cost limits made any freedom on the part of local authorities to develop more creative solutions illusory.
In Chapters 24 to 28 he discusses several more recent units. Heathlands at Middlesex Lodge has nowhere to take a child who is playing up; Gladstone House at Dyson Hall, Liverpool, is claustrophobic and has no gymnasium; various components have already had to be replaced. At Little Heath Lodge there are better facilities but no gymnasium and no separate education and the building is claustrophobic. At Orchard Lodge there is an education area and a small external secure area but there have been problems with the windows and doors, there is little storage space, the furniture is easily breakable and there is no heating control. Vardy House, Red Bank, is of a similar design to the original unit but the intercom system offers no privacy, the day areas are cramped and there is less education, recreation and day space than in the 1965 unit; indeed, the conditions are worse than when there was no pretence to treatment.
In Chapter 29 ‘The recognition and representations of the problems’, he runs through the key problems:
- The expectations for security and treatment need to be maintained.
- In relation to the regime, staff effort is directed into compensating for building deficiencies by, for example, authoritarianism, group pressure or threats of transfer.
- Staff are often blamed for weaknesses in the buildings, which are exposed during a period of transition.
- There were functional variations. Are the units short stay or not? Do they have a treatment focus? Are the children at the end of the line - in which case is what they do irrelevant? How important is assessment?
- Concerning staff perceptions, older staff develop ways of dealing with building vulnerabilities which they see as evidence of their competence compared with junior staff.
- According to outsiders’ perceptions, domesticity leads to passivity and inaction.
- Most outsiders, for example senior staff in the local authority, are not prepared to confront the problems.
- Damage often requires a lot to repair, which increases awareness of building weakness among the children and supervision by the staff, which then detract from the unit function.
- Neither the heads nor the DHSS welcome the reporting of problems.
In Chapter 30 ‘Problems with the buildings’, he argues that very small units lack both facilities and a stable peer group. Only the original units and East Moor have adequate external secure space; only the original units, Southwood, the new Royston House and East Moor have adequate internal recreation space; many lack adequate education facilities.
The key problems are:
- ventilation linked to preventing the passing of objects into the building and heating control;
- windows: poor specifications;
- doors: few fitted according to the specifications;
- secure courts: too small and barbed wire added to some to prevent escapes;
- damage: relatively easy;
- design: the number of storeys and the layout influencing the distance staff have to patrol;
- appearance: mostly claustrophobic, dull and gloomy.
In Chapter 31 ‘The supplement to the guidance’, he discusses the 1980 supplement in which cost is the primary concern; it suggests outward-looking windows (which will increase the desire to abscond) and a U-shape or square to enclose a secure court (but these reduce ease of supervision).
Other suggestions in the supplement are inconsistent with the cost limits such as a gymnasium and a reduced external secure court and a fence to restrict access to outward-facing windows. The suggestions to solve the ventilation problems are inadequate and those for better locks simply make the door weaker.
In Chapters 32 and 33 he discusses two recent units, Redsands and East Moor. Redsands uses mechanical ventilation and white ceilings to give a ‘light and airy’ feel and the Mul-T-Lock system to avoid weakening the doors but the secure court is too small and the shape of the building makes supervision more difficult. It was also 50% above cost limits.
At East Moor there are three units of two-storey buildings around a single secure court, across which movement occurs; dining may be in the main dining room or in the units. However, the bedrooms are small, the window cills are high and there are a lot of weaker fittings.
In Chapter 34 ‘Recent developments‘, he describes the fallout from the death by hanging of a child in 1982 at St Charles Youth Treatment Centre. In January 1983 the DHSS issued a circular indicating that there would be no new units but capital grants to repair/refurbish existing units; this led to the replacement of Royston House, a new building at Kingswood and the overhaul of Stamford House. Some units received extensions to provide recreation and education areas; however, the earlier guidance was not withdrawn.
Part D: Details of Building Problems
In Chapters 35 to 42 he covers the specific design issues relating to ventilation, windows, doors and walls, roof voids and roofs, external secure areas, sanitary areas, furniture and finishes and soft furniture.
In Chapter 43 ‘Planning’, he describes how he addressed these issues in the design of the new Royston House which has a centralised, single-storey building, a secure external area the same size as the unit, bedrooms facing onto the secure court and education rooms in a petal arrangement.
Part E: Comparisons With Other Secure Institutions
In Chapter 44 ‘Regional Secure Units in psychiatric hospitals: the Glancy and Butler’ reports, he looks at the DHSS response to the open door policy in mental hospitals and the need for specific closed units as set out in the Glancy Report (Working Party on Security in NHS Hospitals, 1974) and the Interim Butler Report (Committee on mentally abnormal offenders, 1975) . The former had suggested there were up to 1,000 patients who might need secure care and the latter that there were about 1,000 mentally abnormal offenders in prison.
The Glancy Report had suggested units for 50-100 patients with educational, occupational and recreational facilities, imaginative use of space, wide corridors, raised ceilings and bright colours. The Butler Report had argued that, as Regional Secure Units would not be the end of the line, security was not a paramount concern.
He notes that Glancy had argued that relying on staff to provide security might divert them from their treatment functions.
In Chapter 45 ‘The design guidelines’, he discusses the 1975 design guidelines which had been issued in response to requests from Regional Health Authorities. These too had started from cost, making no allowance for the costs of security and assuming that smaller units would use facilities in the main hospital. The guidelines suggest different levels of security but not how to reflect that in the buildings. The suggestion that perimeter security should only be intended to delay an absconder is inadequate because of the cost in staff time of retrieving an absconder is high.
In Chapter 46 ‘The buildings for the Regional Secure Units’, he describes the two units that had been constructed, the Hutton Unit, St Luke’s, Middlesbrough in 1981 which has fewer facilities than might have been envisaged, and the Scott Clinic, Rainhill, from 1983 which has a large external secure court and a compact design and where the acceptance of damage has led to the decision to use things that are easy to replace.
In Chapter 47 ‘Glenthorne Youth Treatment Centre‘, he discusses the design of the second Youth Treatment Centre which he argues is less pleasant than either Rainhill or East Moor and has major problems.
In Chapter 48 ‘Regimes and buildings in post-war prisons’, he describes how the design of Everthorpe was criticised for being old-fashioned and this led to the design of Blundeston in 1963 where compromises on security were accepted. However the 1966 escape of George Blake led to the 1968 Mountbatten Report which introduced the security categories from A to D and suggested a new A category prison. However, the 1968 Radzinowicz subcommittee recommended that A category prisoners be dispersed and Albany Prison which had been designated a C category prison was re-designated as an A category with the addition of a concrete wall. When Frankland Prison was opened in 1982 it was based on the 1961 principles but required twice the staffing of Wakefield Prison.
In summary, he argues there has been
- a tendency to disregard security,
- over-optimism about the use of weaker components in design,
- slowness to admit problems and change out of date notions.
Part F: Conclusion
In Chapter 49 ‘Conclusions’, he argues that you should not blame the children for design faults.
The book concludes with an index of manufacturers and tables of all the Secure Units for children in 1980-4.
This book is unique in many ways; it is written by an architect, not by someone with a long or close connection with child care, it provides a snapshot of all the secure provision for children in England and Wales and it offers a multi-layered analysis of child care policy, research and practice unmatched in any formal research study. Though there are points at which a deeper understanding of the child care issues might have sharpened the analysis, the humanity that pervades the book makes it comparable in its own sphere with Juvenile Delinquents (Carpenter, 1853).
Both address the issues at all four levels of analysis (Vander Ven, 1981) - policy, external relations, staff interactions and individuals - with Blumenthal demonstrating in the issues surrounding the design of windows, for example, how the cost and design recommendations of the DHSS impact on the view of the unit to outsiders, the risks that staff need to be aware of and the opportunities for damage and self-harm that they provide to the children.
In so doing he exposes a level of complacency and incompetence at the DHSS which would have rendered a private company open to multiple lawsuits for negligence if not for culpable negligence. But, by implication, this book is also a damning indictment of all those child care workers at all levels who have colluded with the system. As Cawson and Martell (1979) and Millham et al. (1978) make clear, there always have been child care workers who have protested on behalf of children or taken risks to provide a more humane experience for children in Secure Units but these principled stands have counted for little in the experience of the vast majority of children in Secure Units.
He also shares with Mary Carpenter the fate that, however piercing his analysis, successive governments have been able to ignore his arguments and there are now at least five times more children in closed institutions than there were when he was writing even though the number of young people in the population is less than it was then.
Finally, his conclusion “Don’t blame children for the problems you have created” makes him perhaps the most worthy successor to Mary Carpenter.
Carpenter, M. (1853) Juvenile delinquents, their condition and treatment London: W & F G Cash See also Children Webmag November 2008
Cawson, P. and M. Martell (1979) Children referred to closed units DHSS Research Report No 5 London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office
Committee on mentally abnormal offenders (1975) Report of the committee on mentally abnormal offenders London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office (Butler Report)
Department of Health and Social Security (1981) Legal and professional aspects of the use of secure accommodation for children in care London: Department of Health and Social Security
Millham, S., R. Bullock and K. Hosie (1978) Locking up children: secure provision within the child care system Farnborough: Saxon House
Vander Ven, K. D. (1981) Patterns of career development in group care In F. Ainsworth and L. Fulcher (Eds) Group care for children: concept and issues Chapter 8, pp. 201-224. London: Tavistock See also Children Webmag January 2009.
Working Party on Security in NHS Hospitals (1974) Revised report London: Department of Health and Social Security (Glancy Report).