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Nitty Drugs & Broken Trust

Young people talk Spice and the Secure Estate

While a small group in number, the young people in secure settings in England are some of our most vulnerable, and deserve the highest levels of care we can offer.

NHS England, looking to understand the realities of these young people’s lives, commissioned User Voice to help build a picture of their experiences of Spice and life in the secure estate. By collaborating with staff from the secure estate, we got access to their stories and their views on what works and what doesn’t.

User Voice uses former service users as researchers to get ‘horse’s mouth’ views, and on this occasion the results make for difficult reading, particularly to those of us who have had similar experiences down the years.

Eighty-five per cent of young people surveyed said they used drugs – a third of these said it was a way of coping with their lives. This is a frightening number – why are so many children using chemicals to change how they feel?

It did emerge that only a relatively small number used Spice in the secure estate (1%), saying it was viewed as a “dirty drug”; 8% said they used it in the community - it is definitely viewed with suspicion by the majority of those User Voice spoke to.

This report started as a look into Spice but revealed a shocking theme: a lack of trust. Seventy-five per cent of those surveyed said they didn’t trust any professional involved in their care – a result of broken promises and a lack of confidentiality and transparency. Some said they felt information could be misused. Why do they feel this way?

The children and young people described lives on hold - they felt they were just being managed until they were 18, and then they would be someone else’s problem: “I’m just existing, not really living” was how one put it.

It is startling to find such synergy with my own story and those of many other members of User Voice staff, volunteers and Council members: young people feeling they have few people they can trust, and widespread use of drugs as a way of coping. It feels that, 30 years on, we are still unable to interrupt the cycle of mistrust and drug use.

This lack of trust, set against a background of using drugs to cope, leaves these young people on their release at the mercy of the chaotic and negative environments that put them in the secure estate in the first place.

While we struggle as a society to enable enough of these vulnerable young people to live lives free from drugs, this consultation does give young people the opportunity to put forward their own solutions.

The report may be uncomfortable reading, but it is really important.