• Podsoc #66
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Long term follow up of children with problem behaviours:

In conversation with Helen Masson

[Transcript of this podcast is found in the Reference tab below]

In this podcast, Helen Masson talks about a novel approach to tracing research participants using social media. Helen also talks about the findings of this research with adults who as children had sexually abused.

Dr. Helen Masson is Emerita Professor of Social Work at the University of Huddersfield. Having originally qualified and practised as a social worker in children and family work, she has been an academic for many years, involved in qualifying and post qualifying social work training, research and consultancy and journal editing, for example being co-editor of the British Journal of Social Work (BJSW) from 2004-2010. Helen has published extensively, most recently in relation to children and young people with harmful sexual behaviours. She was co-investigator on the ESRC- funded research study ‘Recidivism, desistence and life course trajectories of young sexual abusers. An in-depth follow-up study, 10 years on’. The BJSW article, which prompted this podcast, provides an account of the project’s innovative methodological approach to tracing ex-service users.

Recommended citation – APA6th

Fronek, P. (Host). (2014, March 21). Long term follow up of children with problem behaviours: In conversation with Helen Masson [Episode 66]. Podsocs. Podcast retrieved Month Day, Year, from http://www.podsocs.com/podcast/long-term-follow-up-of-children-with-problem-behaviours/.

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Transcript Podsocs 66: Long term follow up of children with problem behaviours with Helen Masson.

Thank you to Aleksandra Rakic for this transcription

[musical into to 00.10]

Hello, and welcome to Podsocs, the podcasts for social workers on the run. Brought to you by a bunch of social workers from Griffith University in Australia. I’m Tricia Fronek, one of that bunch and we’re just basically really glad you found us. So, happy listening.
This morning on Podsocs we’re talking to Helen Masson from the UK. Helen, welcome to Podsocs.

Helen: Thank you for inviting me to do an interview, Patricia.

Tricia: Helen, we’re going to be talking about your research, on long term follow-up of young people, but we’re also going to be talking about the novel way that you found them. Let’s start and tell the listeners… about you and who you are and your research.

Helen: Okay. Right… Well, I’m a Professor of Social Work at Huddersfield University and now I have worked here for a number of years. I used to be involved primarily with the education and training of social workers but in, in most recent years, I’ve been mostly focused on research. Back, back in the late eighties, however, I developed an interest in the problem of children and young people who sexually abuse. This arose because I did a year’s secondment as a social worker back in practice…at a… a teen that was very famous in the UK and was known somewhat internationally, Rochdale NSPCC team who pioneered work in the field of sexual abuse and particularly in relation to work with families and, and children who have been sexually abused. And as a result of that year’s secondment, I became interested in the problem that seemed to be emerging in the late eighties of children and young people who sexually abuse, up until then it was assumed that just adult males abuse children, but it was beginning to become clear that there was a problem of younger people being involved in sexual abuse for various reasons. So that’s how it all started. And I actually based my PhD on a survey if you like, of services and professionals who were working with um, this population. That’s how it all started and I’ve done two major projects since then, the most recent one being the follow-up study.

Tricia: Tell us a bit about that study, Helen.

Helen: Well, erm, my colleague, Simon Hackett who is at Durham University, and I were very interested to trying to explore to what happens to young people who were referred as children and young people’s welfare services because of harmful sexual behaviours. What happens to them as they grow up, often when they are no longer in further contact with services. There really hasn’t been much study of that particular aspect. In America, in particular, there’ve been various recidivism studies, you know, how many young people who have been found guilty of sexual offence in their youth carry on reoffending and the recidivisms of this indicate that only a very small proportion do recidivate…you know, 10% or so… very, very small … so I think that’s the first message to get across for young people who sexually abuse others in, in their youth are not the future adult sex offenders by large, by no means… umm and of course as we know a lot of sexual abusers entirely unreported to the police or other authority… anyway, if we look at follow up in terms of young sexual offenders and their re-offense rate and looking at total population. So, we wanted to um pick up and explore a much broader sample, a sample that was much more representative of the diversity of this population.

Tricia: So would they’ve been kids who have gone through the system and, and seen a social worker or undergone some sort of treatment?

Helen: Yes, we, on a previous research project, Simon and I had a very good idea about which services there were in the UK who offered special obs to this population. And these would be young people who would typically be known to social services as it was called then and children’s services now they would have gotten referred to these specialist services so there was a both local authority input as well as the specialist input. The specialist services typically run by voluntary agencies or, or private agencies. But they do have founding from local authorities to provide a service so we knew a lot about these services. So, what we did was approach nine services in the end, to see if they would give us information about the young people they worked with during the 1990’s. That is at least ten years ago. We could then try and trace and follow them up and interview them to find out how they were making out in their young adult lives.

Tricia: So that’s a lot of years between, how did you find them?

Helen: Well, it wasn’t easy as you might imagine. As you appreciate there all sorts of data protection and ethical issues involved. Obviously, when its research into human subjects, one must do no harm, and then we had it was essential that we didn’t compromise the young adults’ now current circumstances. As you might imagine they, they might well be real people who know, knew nothing about their childhood histories and so on. So, what we… it was a four-stage project. First of all, we gathered information on seven hundred young children and young people who’ve been known to these nine services and actually that then produced a paper in a child abuse review in its own right, which analysed their current characteristics and how they behave, backgrounds of their sexual behaviours and so on. From that seven hundred, we then tried to select between twelve and fifteen cases from each of the nine services so that each twelve to fifteen was as… much as we could… representative of the kind of service user group that particular service is working with, and then we tried to trace those young people and we used a variety of means. We obviously looked up names in electoral registers and you can purchase searches via sites like 192.com, people chaser. And they, you know you can put names in as you want to get in terms of names and addresses and things. We searched for people via google but then what we had realised was that these days, since what little of the last decade, have all sorts of social media sites sprouted and flourished particularly Facebook, and we wondered if quite a number of people that we were trying to trace might just be on Facebook. Umm and so we set up our own research project Facebook account and then tried to search for them through that means there’s a very you know multipronged approach. Not only did we search on the ex-service user names we also searched on the family member names of the ex-service user and we found that was important to do. To try and improve the success rate of our searches.

Tricia: What a time-consuming process.

Helen: It was. I mean if someone had a name like John Smith, it was disastrous in a sense. Because you’ve got lots and lots and lots of John Smiths coming up. If someone had an unusual name then you know it wasn’t quite as bad. But the overall process of trying to trace the hundred and seventeen took six full-time weeks of work and each individual we take anything up to anything like five hours to establish whether we had leads or not. Okay, so It took a lot of time.

Tricia: So, how did you approach them, Helen?

Helen: Well, just to indicate, we, I mean were, we didn’t find all hundred and seventeen as you might imagine. We found, let me just find the percentage, we found sixty-nine of them I think, or was it more than that, … just bear with me a minute. Here we are, ah sorry, no we actually found eighty-one out of hundred and seventeen cases which is sixty-nine per cent.

Tricia: That’s pretty good. Such a long period of time.

Helen: The majority of the hundred and sixty-nine were male. As majority of the sample were male. But of the six females we tried to search we found five which was a higher success rate, eighty-three per cent, and we found that Facebook, and the electoral register for the most successful searching tools and all those sites like Bebo and Myspace which of course have gone down in popularity. They were pretty hopeless in terms of finding people. Google was moderately successful, but Facebook and the electoral register were, were the most successful route for tracing people.

Tricia: This just opens up a whole other avenue for research.

Helen: So, having established that we knew… and we had a means of communication, of course we then faced the very tricky task of communicating with them extremely carefully so not to compromise their current life circumstances. We realised that in order to meet the UK data protection requirements um, we had... they had to give consent to us as researchers, having any contact with them, And so we asked the original nine services to send a Facebook message or land mail to an individual which was as you might imagine incredibly vague about why it was that the the young person had been in touch with the service, even the name of the service wasn’t made clear, just so that it was a children’s services and you know, they’ve been involved in back in the nineties… in the service was working with us as researchers because we were all very interested to know how they were getting on in later life. and if they would be willing to meet or communicate with myself and my colleagues, so we did it that way.

Tricia: And how did they take it? Was everyone okay about being contacted?

Helen: We had one hostile response. It was on the lines of never knock on my door again. And of course, we were very apologetic and didn’t. the others obviously, not surprisingly were very surprise at being contacted out of the blue to speak, and had some anxiety, the focus…. then those we communicated saw Facebook as a reasonably secure and private way of being contacted, and much more so compared to being contacted by letter of phone. I can actually give you a quote from one of the people we subsequently interviewed. Thirty-year-old male participant, at the end of our interview with him which was a face-to-face interview and really interesting. We asked how he felt about being contacted and he said “I don’t know it was kind of a shock, but no, I never heard nothing from any social services when I was an adult. So, then I contacted you.” “Once you mention money…”, if I can just make it aside, we offered everyone a thirty pound gift token just to show appreciation for their involvement... so it goes on... “once you mention money I was happy about it. My wife said, well you know talk about it, you are not proud of your past, but you know you are not scared of it. You know, I can’t change it but you know it’s not something you’re worried about. So, talk about it. Get it out in the open. Facebook…yeah I’m always on Facebook on my phone.” So, as you can see an example, his wife did know about his past, and was encouraging to come forward, and that interview actually lasted three hours because he was so keen to tell us about all his experiences in childhood, and all the ups and downs that he had since. But was now in a relatively good place. He had this wife, he… and they seemed to get on well, they had difficult financial circumstances, but they had a flat, he had… he had become a parent, and that was a hugely significant... for him. But he was working ever so hard and to make it for being a parent than he had experienced as being a child. And he was also very keen to tell us about his for example, post school achievements. He was a nightmare at school. He bullied people, he was bullied… he was eventually sent to boarding school, because there was such a problem with his attendance. He ran away from there so in the end he was expelled. So, he had a ghastly school career, but then he got into a training courses in college, work related courses, for example he got certificates in […] truck. He went on various outward bound things too and he brought a whole sort of hold of his achievements. And he was really keen to show us that. It was a very clear message. Look, I had a dreadful past but I have actually achieved some things. And we thought he seemed more hopeful about it, his future life.

Tricia: So did anyone do well?

Helen: No. Um… very mixed results. We compared the how… you know, our analysis of the interviews with people, against Farrington’s resilience outcome practice. The sort of practice that help people to make good as opposed to carrying on with awful problems. And as a result of that we classified our sample as successful in twenty-six per cent of cases, mixed results i.e. some success but some continuing problems in thirty-one per cent of cases, and unsuccessful outcomes in forty-three percent. In terms of what you know what were the factors associated with those successful outcomes... well, people like the chap I just mentioned who had some ambition, and some level of optimism for their future, having a stable relation, or (if it wasn’t a marital type of relationship), a relationship result, with an old foster parent or a doctor or a professional who kept in touch - having some kind of a stable relationship, someone they could chew things over with, was extremely important. Having achieved in some extent some education was important because obviously that then leads to improved chances in employment, which obviously has an impact on the terms of finances, housing and everything else. Those who were unsuccessful, straight forwardly unsuccessful, you know, were individuals with poor body image, poor health, you know, chronic relationship failures, unstable lives, living conditions, might not even be have accommodation, they might be homeless, chaotic or unstable, their habits, alcohol habits, and, and petty crime. Hardly any as far as we could tell, had committed another sexual offense, but amongst the unsuccessful group, particularly there was a fair amount of other offending, non-sexual offending.

Tricia: So, what does this tell us about how we work with these kids?

Helen: Well, I think it tells us (I mean, I don’t know about state workers in Australia, but I do know to some extent) but speaking from the UK perspective, I think that there is a very strong feeling that amongst professionals and experts in the field that we got to look at the whole child. Yes, harmful sexual behaviours are a worry and particularly because there are victims, and we have to deal with the risks that children and young people with harmful sexual behaviours present in order to reduce risk to victims in the community but we have to constantly be aware that these youngsters are often youngsters who had very troubled backgrounds themselves. A fair percentage could come from abusive backgrounds, sexual abuse and other causes of abuse, and they have huge unmet needs of their own, so into assessment, and then treatment. All the needs of the child and the young person has to be looked at.

Tricia: Because they are children, aren’t they? I mean, that’s the bottom line rather than punitive approaches that might compound that.

Helen: And they are not much different from most other young people that have been in trouble with the police for example. They regretted it. Um but they do need support, they need good enough parenting, and enduring good enough parenting.

Tricia: I was just going to say… it also says something to me about how we structure our services too. I’m not sure about UK but certainly it sounds to me like having a consistent experienced worker that can follow someone through into adulthood I think is really important.

Helen: I think so. I definitely think so. Whereas for most of the young people who are in contact with the services and with social services or children’s services in the 1990s, all that stopped, and you know when they were seventeen, eighteen maximum. I mean I interviewed one young woman, who was who been taken into care such were the horrors of her family background, but she was out of care at eighteen and went straight into homelessness and was quickly exploited and abused and it was disastrous. There’s….

Tricia: And that’s a terrible flaw in our systems.

Helen: It is. It is. I was going to say that in the UK, it’s just this last week the government has announced that young people who are fostered, not necessarily for harmful sexual behaviours, they can now carry on being supported by their foster parents until they are twenty-one, which is… real…

Tricia: That’s a big thing.

Helen: But I mean certainly, I think there’s a good argument…and through the transition to children to adult services which is poor in this country, certainly, it sounds like it may be in Australia, but also….

Tricia: Mmm… mmm I think so.

Helen: Longer term health, I mean the experience of my two children, they didn’t really grow up properly until they were twenty-nine and they needed ongoing help into their early twenties….

Tricia: And I think there’s biological evidence to support that now. The brain doesn’t even stop developing at until about then.

Helen: No, no… so I think longer term support, continuing support is really important, but helping them negotiate all the things of adult life, like finding a job, getting a home, talking about relationships, you know, etcetera, etcetera…. bringing up kids. Because a lot of young people we talk to have a pretty poor school career. Mainly because of life happening circumstances so dysfunctional that in doing well at school is the least of their worries if you see what I mean.

Tricia: So obviously they had certain strengths about them, they had determination, they had some successes that they actually helped them along the way.

Helen: Yes. Yes. Indeed. Um, you know, but, but, personal strengths, as well as social supports and you know, achieving something, I mean that matters a lot in the sense of hope.

Tricia: So, all of those areas could start some interventions in social work.

Helen: Absolutely. And in all children and families… I don’t think what we’ve been talking about applies just to children and young people with harmful sexual behaviours, I think it applies to all children and in need.

Tricia: We are almost out of time. Important last words about your research?

Helen: Well, I mean I think it’s been a piece of work that has been methodologically very challenging, and it has thrown up a lot of ethical dilemmas, practical issues. It’s interesting actually that the British Journal of Social Work article which you saw which prompted you to get in touch with me has actually triggered a lot of interest. Just weeks ago I was in Glasgow giving a talk to various university students and staff about the ethics and practicality of doing that kind of research so it is fairly innovative, I mean that really wasn’t our intention, when we set out. We really just wanted to follow up with people and interview them. Process of doing it was fascinating, and has provoked a lot of interest, but I think it’s, I mean it’s been a very worthwhile piece of research I think it terms of being one of the first studies internationally that has provided more in depth qualitative data about how these young people are now faring in their adult life and what would have helped them or did help them to, to make, you know something of their lives.

Tricia: Helen, I think you also talked about… last time we actually did speak… about the importance of perhaps permission seeking before children leave the system to engage in future research.

Helen: Yes, yes. Indeed. Yeah, I mean that, our research would have been a great deal easier had welfare services at the point where they are beginning work with people, actually promoted the idea of long-term follow-up, which is what they often do in health settings and actually get people’s consent to keep in touch with them overtime and their consent to be followed up for research purposes. If that’s been… if services had done that, then we would’ve, you know, found the data protection and ethical issues much less problematic and stressful and of course, the ex-service users would not have been as surprised when they were subsequently contacted. So, we, there… the message is out to welfare services about which we’ve written up in another article that Journal of Sexual Aggression saying that if you know, if you really want to evaluate the work you are doing, you need to take on board some of these aspects of research and evaluation, and fill them into your service delivery with service users.

Tricia: Helen, not only a wonderful bit of research but gives us new methods of to actually conduct long-term research so thank you very much for being with Podsocs.

Helen: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.

Tricia: Thanks Helen.

[Musical outro 25.29 to END]
Interview ENDS: 25.54