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Thu Apr 18| Blog Projects

MRC Support Across Scotland – A Research Report

I used to think that research was all about making new discoveries. I had this idea that if something had already been said then why bother saying it again. I’ve come to realise the value of discovering what we already know. Life is vastly complex and every aspect of it is made up of a myriad of equally complex parts. What we find when we investigate one aspect of life might be different when we examine it again 10-years later. Think about how different the world was 10-years ago; before Brexit, before Trump, before COVID, etc. There is no reason to think that questions we asked 10-years ago might get different answers today. However, when it comes to the question of MRCs in Scotland, it seems that the answers are the same as they were over a decade ago.

MRCs, or Movement Restriction Conditions, are restrictions given to a young person that limit their freedom through the use of an Electronic Monitoring device (aka a tag). They are used when all other community-based resources have been exhausted. An MRC is imposed onto a young person by a Children’s Hearing. However, a Children’s Hearing cannot impose an MRC unless one or more of the following conditions are met:

(a) that the child has previously absconded and is likely to abscond again and, if the child were to abscond, it is likely that the child’s physical, mental, or moral welfare would be at risk,

(b) that the child is likely to engage in self-harming conduct,

(c) that the child is likely to cause injury to another person.

Part of the decision to impose an MRC onto a young person also depends on the availability of support. While a young person might meet the criteria given above, if services cannot offer the necessary support, then an MRC will not be imposed. What this means for the young person is a referral to secure care.

That being said, MRCs for young people in Scotland are about to change. The new Children (Care and Justice) (Scotland) Bill will make the criteria for MRCs much broader and much more flexible. This is something that includem welcomes, and we especially welcome any use of MRCs that limits the use of secure care. Until the new bill is passed, and until it is put into practice within the justice system, we don’t know exactly what it will mean for our young people. What we do know is how MRCs have worked so far.

In December 2023 I was asked to look into the current situation regarding young people and MRCs in Scotland. I conducted a series of interviews with 11 local authorities. The research was relatively simple in nature. I asked seven questions to each local authority and then gathered the data from the discussions that followed. The seven questions were:

  • Do you currently have any Children/Young People in your local authority area on an MRC?
  • What supports and services do they have in place and what is the intensity?
  • Could you provide some details of the post-MRC support?
  • How many children or young people in secure care could legally be on an MRC under current legislation?
  • How many children or young people in secure care could legally be on an MRC under the new Children (Care and Justice) (Scotland) Bill?
  • What would you most like to see from an intensive MRC support service?
  • Is there anything else you would like to add?

What came out of these conversations was what we already knew about MRCs. John Boyle in 2008, Nina Vaswani in 2009, David Orr in 2013, Stewart Simpson and Fiona Dyer in 2016, and Claire Lightowler in 2020 found that the most effective element of an MRC is not the restriction of liberty, but the intensive support that should accompany it. These conversations revealed another thing that we already knew: the availability of support for young people who meet the criteria for an MRC is extremely inconsistent. But make no mistake, this is not simply a question of resources. This is a question of children’s rights.

Article 37 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) states that “children should be arrested, detained or imprisoned only as a last resort,” and Article 3 states that the “best interests of the child must be a top priority in all decisions and actions that affect children.” A young person should only be detained as a last resort, but what “last resort” means in one place is very different to what it means in another. We should ask if a young person is being denied their liberty because it has been rigorously assessed as being in their best interest, or if it is because funding and policy decisions have denied them any other option.

On the one hand, it’s impossible to predict what the new Care and Justice Bill will mean for MRCs and young people in Scotland. Life is complex, and a lot can happen in a short period of time. On the other hand, we know that without a change to how we fund and resource children’s services, the new Bill will be a description of what young people could be entitled to if they live in the right area. While this report is an exercise in discovering what we already know, I hope that it serves to further emphasise the changes that need to happen. Without exception, all children and young people in Scotland deserve the same opportunities, the same support, and the same rights. At includem, we welcome the new Care and Justice Bill, and we also see this as an opportunity to get it right for every child.

Read the MRC Supports Across Scotland research report here.

Dr David Gould,
Research Associate

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