Article 39 fights for the rights of children living in state and privately-run institutions (children’s homes, boarding and residential schools, mental health inpatient units, prisons and immigration and military detention), a population of around 80,000 in England.
As a new charity, we are seeking funds to build a brilliant online resource which informs children and young people about their rights and how they can raise concerns and challenge mistreatment.
Meanwhile, we are getting on with promoting and defending the rights of children by:
- Lobbying on the Children and Social Work Bill
- Pressing for a serious case review into the abuse of children in Medway secure training centre
- Monitoring institutional settings.
Children and Social Work Bill
Allowing local authorities to opt-out of their duties
The Children and Social Work Bill was introduced into Parliament in May 2016. Part of the Bill created a fast-track procedure for the removal of local authority social care duties towards vulnerable children and young people, including those who are looked after and living in children's homes, secure children's homes, custody and residential schools. Article 39 took a leading role in lobbying against these powers (called the 'exemption clauses'). We co-founded the highly successful Together for Children campaign, made up of 53 organisations and over 160 individual experts, to defend children's social care rights during the passage of the Bill. Our Director's online 38 Degrees petition achieved more than 100,000 signatures in two weeks.
In March 2017, in an unprecedented move, the Education Secretary, Justine Greening MP, added her name to opposition amendments to remove the exemption clauses. As the Bill awaits Royal Assent, there is no longer any provision to exempt local authorities from their children's social care duties.
Read articles written by Article 39's Director against the exemption clauses:
- Children and Young People Now (29 June 2016)
- OpenDemocracy (29 September 2016)
- Mumsnet (17 October 2016)
- politics.co.uk (7 November 2016)
- CommunityCare (9 January 2017)
Read our parliamentary briefings and submissions on the exemption clauses:
- House of Lords Second Reading
- House of Lords Committee
- House of Lords Report [the exemption clauses were voted out at this stage]
- House of Commons Second Reading
- House of Commons Public Bill Committee
Sending looked after children to Scotland (due to lack of provision in England)
In December 2016, Children's Minister Edward Timpson MP tabled amendments to allow looked after children from England and Wales to be detained for welfare reasons in secure accommodation in Scotland. We led opposition to these changes, which very regrettably were passed in the Bill's latter stages. Once the Bill receives Royal Assent, we will monitor the use of these new Children Act 1989 powers.
Read our parliamentary briefings and submissions on changes to secure accommodation law:
- House of Commons Public Bill Committee
- House of Commons Report Stage
- House of Lords Consideration of Amendments
Medway secure training centre
Article 39 has collected a great deal of information on Medway secure training centre, a child prison run by G4S until July 2016. It is now run by the state.
In January 2016, BBC Panorama broadcast footage of physical and emotional child abuse in the prison, obtained through undercover filming. Besides young people who had been in custody, Article 39's Director was the only individual in a non-statutory role to be interviewed by the Medway Improvement Board, established by the then Justice Secretary, Michael Gove MP, in response to the serious allegations. The Board's report was published in May 2016. We alerted the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman and Degrading Treatment to the abuse revelations, and wrote to the Chair of the Medway Local Safeguarding Children Board urging him to establish a serious case review. These are statutory reviews of child deaths and incidents of serious harm where agencies have failed to work together to safeguard children.
Article 39 believes a serious case review is necessary because allegations of mistreatment stretch back to 2003, and many organisations appear to have failed to promote and safeguard the welfare of very vulnerable children. There has never been a serious case review into the systemic mistreatment of children in penal settings, though several have been undertaken following the deaths of children. We were therefore delighted to hear in February 2017 that such a review WILL take place.
- READ OUR G4S MEDWAY TIMELINE
- In August 2016, Ofsted published a very critical inspection report on Medway secure training centre. This prompted our Director to write 'Secure training centres in numbers'
- Read our Director's Guardian Social Care piece on investigations into prison child abuse (March 2017)
Monitoring institutional settings
Article 39 regularly uses the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to obtain information on the care and treatment of children living in institutional settings. We use this information to inform our work with parliamentarians and other policy makers. We work with journalists to promote wide dissemination of information, to raise awareness and build support for positive change.
In May 2016, after repeat FOI requests from Article 39, the prisons minister, Andrew Selous MP, announced that the government was would consider the routine publication of serious injuries and warning signs data. This is the information collected centrally on incidents of prison restraint which lead to children being unable to breathe or losing consciousness and/or suffering fractures or other serious injuries. Such information had hitherto been kept secret. Data elicited by Article 39 was reported by Eric Allison at the Guardian newspaper, and was included in a fuller article on abuse in custody written by our Director for openDemocracy.
In January 2017, following our work, information on serious injuries and warnings signs was included in the Government's annual youth justice statistics for the first time.
Article 39 led opposition to the Children and Social Work Bill's exemption clauses May 2016-March 2017