For children in care or going through the youth justice system a good escort service can make a real difference. But in this growing market, establishing a suitable service requires a strong focus on the needs of the child. John Newman investigates Hyderabad Escorts

When their father left the family home Justin, who was nine, and his sisters aged five and seven, were relieved. They would no longer have to face strict punishments over the smallest incident, and his violence towards their mum.

But their mum found it difficult to keep normal household routines going.

The children were late for school, they appeared unkempt, and there were serious discipline problems with Justin. He had uncontrollable rages when he was asked to carry out tasks or participate in lessons. He behaved like this at home too, frightening his sisters.

The family GP, recognising the deterioration in the family circumstances, persuaded Justin’s mum that support from social services’ children and families team would be a positive step forward. A social worker set up a temporary foster placement for Justin, and contacted an escort service to provide transport to and from school and home visits, so that contact, continuity and structure was maintained.

For Justin, the escort service was a vital part of getting his life back on track. In fact, escort services play an important role in supporting vulnerable children, by keeping them in touch with family, friends and school at a difficult time in their lives. For a child or young person in local authority care, or facing proceedings through the youth justice system, the experience is often bewildering and alienating. Given these circumstances, the way a young person is treated when they need to be transported, or escorted, forms an important part of the care and custody process.

A growing market

As the practice of contracting out local authority services has become accepted practice, the number of companies providing specialist services around the escorting of children has grown. There are now several that offer nationwide coverage, and provide a 24-hour service seven days a week, 52 weeks of the year (see panel).

However, the services on offer cover a wide range of duties and responsibilities, which call for specialist training, knowledge and experience in working with a diverse group of children. These services can range from escorting young people who have absconded, to escorting them to and from secure units.

Wrixon Care is an escort and supervision company based in Hertfordshire, which provides escort services to county councils in Hertfordshire and Essex. It has produced a handbook setting out all the information children’s professionals want to know if they need to work with an escort company.

According to Louise Radford, operations and marketing manager at Wrixon Care, all their employees are required to pass an enhanced Criminal Records Bureau check, and there’s a six- to eight-week induction programme.

During this time, the new member of staff is allocated a mentor, and they work alongside a team leader who will be assessing their suitability.

Finally, the company, which last year attained the Investor in People standard, has its own Level 2 NVQ programme in custodial care, and provides training in how to physically control children safely.

Wrixon Care will only employ people with a relevant background, for example those with experience in social care, police or youth work. “However, it is hard to find to find good female workers, and around 70 per cent of our employees are male,” Radford admits.

Dave Counsell was a police officer for 26 years before joining the Wrixon team. He says his previous experience means you “know how to talk to people”, and most of the escort training was familiar. “But the children and families work took a bit of getting used to,” he reveals. For instance, Counsell and his colleagues are required “to present a full report on every contact we have, children’s thoughts, and observations of parent’s behaviour,” he explains.

The advantages of independence

Counsell’s work covers three areas: secure escorts from remand centres to courts; contact visits, where parents are estranged; and respite visits.

For secure work, Counsell feels that being part of an independent escort service is an advantage. “Young people, who may be aggressive at first, settle down as they don’t see us as part of the establishment,” he explains.

While some of the children “push the boundaries”, for Counsell, if expectations are carefully explained, it’s “a more upfront and honest approach that helps build some respect”.

One of the more demanding tasks undertaken by escort companies is the transport of young people to and from secure units and the courts. Frequently cases are adjourned, making multiple trips necessary, and adding to the considerable costs involved. As Natalie Wind, who has worked for the past six years for the youth offending team in Lambeth, explains: “Sometimes a child will be in court four times in a week. Each time, they need the use of a secure escort service as a child remanded into the care of the local authority or in secure accommodation has to be escorted.”

The team often works with Personal Security Services (PSS), which aims to make the job of transporting people “as easy as possible for the social workers, and as relaxed as possible for the young person”. Alex Hawkins, PSS’s manager, explains that the organisation tries to build relationships with social workers and youth offending teams.

As a result, the firm maintains a database of regular clients, with information such as follow-on court dates, “to keep a track at our end, so that the teams themselves don’t worry,” explains Hawkins. What’s more, according to Wind, “PSS will buy lunch for the children to make them comfortable and reassure them”. While under the terms of their contract PSS is not required to do this, the company believes it adds a human and more caring perspective to a fraught and volatile situation.

Other local authority children’s teams have gone down the voluntary escort route, rather than partnering with commercial providers. For example, Somerset social services has been using volunteer drivers alongside paid staff for 25 years. According to Rita Bennett, who is responsible for recruitment, training, and instigating background checks: “Volunteer drivers make up a good contingent for us, transporting children on various visits and appointments, including contact with parents.”

To help volunteers provide the same service as paid employees, the council gives them training in manual handling — for disabled youngsters — first aid, advanced driving, and awareness courses that promote good communication skills and understanding.

Bennett also conducts a yearly review of the service and a training needs analysis, as well as responding to feedback. And she believes the training and support the council offers is instrumental in the service’s success.

However, other local authorities have not been so lucky. Take Swansea.

For three years the social services team, in partnership with Swansea Council for Voluntary Service, tried to develop a voluntary driver scheme for looked-after children, called Zoom. Its aim was to reduce the number and cost of taxi journeys, and introduce reliable and trained volunteer drivers and escorts.

Volunteers are key

Despite the combined expertise of the organisations, good training and an advertising budget, the scheme failed to attract enough volunteers.

Bill Williams, principal officer in the children and families team, is very disappointed as the team “was desperate to get this scheme up and running”.

As a result, the social services department has gone back to using taxis, spending 300,000 a year doing so. As Williams says: “We could have virtually set up our own taxi service with this money.” He’s also unhappy about having to use a service that is not regulated, as taxis are not subject to mechanical safety or cleanliness checks, and it is impossible to verify who is driving.

Situations like these are disheartening as a high-quality escort service — whether purchased from a company, or a well-organised volunteer scheme — can make a genuine difference to the way a child or young person perceives the standard of care they receive. Being transported or escorted by people who they’re familiar with, and who are trained and experienced, rather than being picked up by a succession of strangers driving cabs, should form an elementary part of the care plan.


1. Are telephone enquiries answered with concise and accurate information about a child’s requirements, giving the purchaser confidence that timetable and scheduling arrangements will be adhered to?

2. Does the company/volunteer scheme produce information on its policies and procedures, covering different areas of operations?

3. Does the company/volunteer scheme readily provide background information on the staff or volunteers who will be carrying out the escort or transport duties and their previous work experience?

4. What kind of report and feedback will you receive once an escort or transport procedure has been carried out?

5. If the work involves a series of regular appointments or visits with a child or young person can the same staff be assigned, to provide continuity of contact and care?

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