There’s been a huge amount of media coverage recently about violent crime amongst children and young people in the UK. However, it seems that the Government’s answer to this is to give more power to the police to surveil, stop and search and punish young people. Based on his own experience, Rhys questions whether criminalising young people is the answer.
I was diagnosed with emotional behavioural difficulties (EBD) when I was in year 2 of primary school and I subsequently transitioned into a Special Educational Needs (SEN) school. The school was for children like me who found mainstream education challenging. Due to the nature of the school, staff were trained in restraint which was used to control certain behaviours.
When I was 14 years old I was in a maths lesson at school when I got into an altercation with another boy over a Pokemon card. This altercation became physical and staff intervened to apply restraints to both myself and the other child. As I was in crisis at this time and surprised by the sudden physical contact with another person, I swung my arm and accidently whacked my teacher on her forearm. This caused a small red mark that in all honesty was barely visible and, I was later told, had disappeared completely the following day.
At the time of this incident a new head teacher had just joined the school. He made the decision to contact the police as a member of staff had been physically struck. I had a really good relationship with the staff member concerned and they were reluctant for the police to become involved but, the Head made the executive decision to involve them.
I was charged with assault. My mum was fined £30 and I had to attend meetings with probation over a certain number of weeks.
This assault was not premeditated, it was a total accident which occurred during a time I was in a crisis situation, in a setting that was supposed to have professionals trained to deal with said situation. If this had been intentional I would be able to accept the offence but I wasn’t even looking at the teacher at the time, I was focused on the other child I was arguing with.
Upon leaving school with my GCSE’s, I trained in children’s care, learning and development. It took 3 meetings before I was accepted on the course as I had an assault conviction on my DBS certificate.
After receiving my qualifications, I was successful in my application for a full-time teaching assistant role. Since then I’ve been working in education and was promoted to a management role in the second school I worked in. However, every role I’ve applied for always starts with embarrassment. I have a great interview and go through all of my experience and then have to disclose at the end that I have a conviction for assault from when I was in school as a 14-year old child.
Although it has never impacted on any application I have made (I have always been the successful candidate in all but one position I have been interview for), it does put a downer on my initial first days of any new job.
During my career I have worked with some of Manchester’s most challenging young people. I have been physically assaulted, spat and sworn at, received homophobic and racist abuse yet, I have never criminalised a young person for their behaviours. Whether this is right or wrong is open to debate but in my opinion, criminalising a young person who is attending a provision because they struggle with their behaviour can only be detrimental. I’ve experienced this first hand at the age of 14 and it has followed me throughout my life.
I am now 30 years old and just about to qualify as a social worker but in order to get on the course I again had to disclose my conviction and attend a separate meeting before I was signed off as ‘safe’. The same thing happened before I was able to attend any of my work placements.
The sad thing is, this will show forever on my enhanced DBS certificate – it will never go away. I will still be disclosing that I whacked my teacher on the arm when I was 14 when I’m 60 years old!
I believe a review is urgently required into what information is disclosed on an enhanced DBS certificate. Cases should be looked at on an individual basis so that only convictions which are relevant and appropriate are disclosed. Does it really benefit anyone that I have to tell every new employer about an incident which took place when I was a young child?
By Rhys (name changed to protect identity)
A comment from Unlock
The most recent changes to the filtering rules introduced in November 2020 means that youth cautions will now be filtered immediately from standard and enhanced DBS certificates. However, for those individuals who received a conviction before they were 18, this will appear on their standard/enhanced DBS certificate for at least 5.5 years possibly forever if the offence they were convicted of is non-filterable. This is one of the reasons why Unlock believes that a more nuanced approach needs to be taken to the disclosure of convictions and a discretionary filtering system introduced.