‘Out of Control’: Making Sense of the Behaviour of Young People Referred to Secure Accommodation

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In social work practice, there are often concerns raised about young people who are felt to be beyond the control their parent(s) or carer(s). However, few studies have attempted to unpick what practitioners mean when they describe young people as being ‘out of control’. Drawing on the findings of a study of secure accommodation decision making in Scotland, this article explores the significance managers, practitioners and young people attached to the notion of ‘out of control’ behaviour. Developmental and socio-cultural perspectives are explored to tease out the dilemmas of exercising control, through the use of secure accommodation, in such cases. The findings suggest that managers tend to focus on quantifying the risks associated with ‘out of control’ behaviour, while practitioners tend to focus on the way previous experiences such as abuse have shaped ‘out of control’ behaviour. In contrast, young people suggest their ‘out of control’ behaviour is related to unhappiness about care placements
and relationships with family. It is argued that, in order to find a balance in our
responses to ‘out of control’ behaviour, we need to understand the multiple meanings of this behaviour and be willing to be go further in our attempts to involve young people in decision making.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBritish Journal of Social Work
Early online date19 Jul 2012
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • adolescents
  • decision making
  • looked after children
  • participation
  • risk
  • secure accommodation


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