Month: October 2015

Questions about company taking over Rainsbrook STC

Four months after a damning inspection report, which said safeguarding was inadequate in G4S-run Rainsbrook secure training centre, the government announced MTCnovo would be handed the contract to run the child prison.

MTCnovo is a partnership between MTC, which manages 25 correctional facilities in the United States, and the UK-based company Amey. The contract transfer is expected to take five months.

On 5 October, Labour Peer and former Chair of the Local Government Association, Lord Beecham, asked the government what experience MTCnovo has of looking after vulnerable children.

Today’s reply suggests the company has very little, if any, experience of running children’s residential establishments:

Lord Beecham asked: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in relation to the decision to award MTCNovo the contract to run Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre, what assessment they have made of the experience that company has in running residential establishments that care for vulnerable children; and whether MTCNovo, including its partners or significant subcontractors, has been found to have breached human rights or equality legislation in the last three years, either in the United Kingdom or abroad.

Justice Minister, Lord Faulks, replied: MTC and their main partner Amey were subject to robust and rigorous assessment at the pre-qualification stage of the competition. This included a thorough examination of health and safety, equalities, human rights and discrimination policies, and a requirement to demonstrate their experience of managing children and young people. There were no findings of a breach in human rights or equality legislation.

Fifteen year-old Gareth Myatt died in Rainsbrook secure training centre in April 2004, after being held down by three officers using the ‘seated double embrace’ restraint technique. The officers ignored the boy’s cries that he couldn’t breathe. The restraint incident started because he refused to clean a sandwich toaster that other boys had also used. A mixed race child, Gareth weighed just 6½ stone and stood less than five feet tall. Subsequent investigations found this and the three other secure training centres were running unlawful restraint regimes.

Carolyne Willow, Article 39’s Director, says:

“With Rainsbrook secure training centre having such a dreadful child protection record, it is imperative that ministers are transparent about whether MTCnovo has the expertise and ethos required to look after vulnerable children. Moving the contract from G4S to another provider should have been, first and foremost, about ensuring the protection and well-being of children, many of whom are held great distances from home. Lord Faulks’s opaque statement is unacceptable given the background of widespread physical abuse in this institution.”  

Charity Commission investigates Hampshire residential school

The Charity Commission has announced today that it has launched a statutory inquiry into the way in which trustees at Stanbridge Earls School Trust oversaw the safeguarding of vulnerable children. The charitable trust ran the Stanbridge Earls day and boarding school for disabled children and adults, aged from 10 to 20 years. The Hampshire school opened in 1952 and closed in 2014 following abuse revelations. Residential places cost in the region of £40,000 per annum.

Earlier this month, Hampshire Safeguarding Children Board published the serious case review it commissioned on how agencies had discharged their duties in relation to children at the school. The review found “very basic errors” in safeguarding at the school, including: a “lack of alertness over safeguarding issues and incidents”; failure to inform parents; failure to inform children’s services and other key agencies of safeguarding concerns; and “failure to reconise that sexual activity between children might raise safeguarding concerns” and indicate crimes had been committed.

Although the local authority was informed in 2010 and 2011 that two girls alleged they were sexually assaulted by other children, it did not undertake any interviews with children until after a Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal said it had “grave concerns” about safeguarding at the school. The tribunal considered whether one of the girls had been discriminated against, as a disabled child, because she was excluded from the school after reporting a second rape there. The case was initiated by the mother of the child. In January 2013, the tribunal found the girl had suffered discrmination and said the headteacher’s failure to act on her abuse allegations “borders on contempt for statutory duties”.

Staff from Hampshire County Council subsequently interviewed 45 children, finding “a small number” had been involved in underage sexual activity. The serious case review report does not say how old the children were at the time.

In July this year, a former pupil of the school was convicted of six counts of sexual offences against children. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) noted the 25 year-old is a vulnerable man with ADHD who started abusing other children when he was aged just 11. After he was moved to Stanbridge Earls School, he abused again, at the age of 15.

Another former pupil was convicted in March for sexual offences against three boys at his Scottish outward bound centre in the 1980s. The serious case review refers to children from Stanbridge school being photographed naked whilst abseiling at the outward bound centre, in May 2013. None of these children were abused or ‘groomed’ at the centre, the report states, though there is no discussion about the relationship between the Scottish establishment and the Hampshire school, which were located 530+ miles apart.

A separate Ofsted internal review was conducted in respect of Ofsted, which on three separate occasions in 2011 and 2012 found the school to be outstanding. These inspections were “flawed” and the judgements within them “not safe”, that review concluded.

In March 2014, Tom Watson MP, now deputy leader of the Labour Party, asked the then Education Secretary, Michael Gove, whether the government supports mandatory reporting in regulated settings, like this school. He explained:

“Following a special educational needs tribunal ruling that children were unsafe in January 2013, at a ministerial meeting in March 2013 parents of abuse victims told a Minister that Stanbridge Earls independent school remained unsafe. I wrote to the Secretary of State in the same month to warn him that the situation was urgent. Despite this, a further child was sexually abused in July 2013.”

In May 2014, the CPS announced the outcome of its review into investigations into 10 former pupils, in respect of sexual abuse allegations, and two members of staff who were alleged to have perverted the course of justice. Chief Crown Prosecutor for the CPS East of England, Grace Ononiwu, stated:

“The conclusion I have reached is that there should be no prosecutions arising out of the evidence which has been provided to us. This decision is not based on whether we believe the allegations made by the pupils but on whether there is sufficient evidence and it is in the public interest to prosecute.”

Our child protection research
Earlier this year, Article 39 sent freedom of information requests to every local authority in England, to ascertain the number of abuse allegations from children about adults working with them in regulated settings like children’s homes, residential schools, mental health in-patient units and prisons. We also sought information on the subsequent number of child protection investigations undertaken under Section 47 of the Children Act 1989, which requires that children’s wishes and feelings be given due consideration. We are in the early stages of analysing the data, which we hope will contribute to wider debates and developments in ensuring the protection of vulnerable children who live in institutional settings. If you have any relevant information, please contact us.

16 year-olds can be placed in secure accommodation

The High Court has confirmed that a 16 or 17 year-old who is being looked after by a local authority under Section 20(3) of the Children Act 1989 can, in principle, be admitted to secure accommodation.

Section 20(3) places a duty on local authorities to accommodate a child who has reached the age of 16 and whose welfare would be seriously prejudiced without such accommodation. The 1989 Act defines a child as a person under the age of 18.

Regulations relating to secure accommodation – children’s homes which deprive children in care of their liberty – specify that this kind of provision cannot be used with children and young people aged between 16 and 21 years, who have been placed in a children’s home as a means of safeguarding or promoting their welfare. However, this relates to Section 20(5) of the 1989 Act, which gives local authorities discretionary powers to accommodate young people into early adulthood.

The case before the High Court concerned a 16 year-old who was at that time detained in a mental health setting due to severe self-harm. The local authority sought clarification of their legal power to apply for a secure accommodation order once she was released from hospital, given she was now aged 16. The girl had been accommodated by the local authority since the age of 14.

Judge Bellamy said local authorities would be permitted to apply for a secure accommodation order in respect of 16 and 17 year-olds looked after under Section 20(3). So once the girl is released from hospital, the local authority can seek to place her in a secure children’s home.

There were 82 children held in secure accommodation on welfare grounds in England and Wales on 31 March 2015.

Read the judgment here.

Serco paid £1.1m to look after empty children’s prison

Article 39 has obtained information from the Ministry of Justice about the closure of Hassockfield secure training centre. We have discovered that Serco was paid £1.1m for a 50-day period when no children were held at the centre.

This was a prison in Durham for children aged 12 to 17, which was run for the government by Medomsley Training Services Ltd, a subsidiary of Serco Group Ltd.

The UK Government entered into a 15-year PFI contract with the company in November 1998, and Hassockfield opened on 17 September 1999. Decades before, the site had been used to incarcerate children and young people in Medomsley detention centre, which is now the subject of a massive police investigation into child abuse.

In August 2004, just five years after Hassockfield opened, 14-year-old Adam Rickwood hanged himself after being unlawfully restrained. He was struck on the nose by an officer using the ‘nose distraction’, a prison service technique that was later banned in children’s institutions (though other pain infliction restraints remain). Unlawful restraint was subsequently found to be widespread in all four of the secure training centre, including Hassockfield. The other three centres are run by G4S though one of them, Rainsbrook, is due to move across to MTCnovo, a partnership between MTC, which manages 25 correctional facilities in the United States, and the UK-based company Amey.

Article 39 made a freedom of information request to find out when the last remaining children were moved from Hassockfield, and the payments made to Serco and G4S in respect of the secure training centres.

We found out that Serco was paid £1.1m for 50 days, between 20 November and 9 January 2015, after the last children had been moved from Hassockfield. Contracts were extended in September 2014 and then again in November.

Serco was paid £6.4m in total in 2014/15 to run Hassockfield. Population figures provided by the Ministry of Justice show that in the last six months there was never any more than 38 children and young people held there.

Fees paid to G4S for running the other three secure training centres in 2014/15 amounted to £39.7m.

The Guardian has reported our research here.

Children’s services reviews – summaries for children to be axed

The Department for Education has announced its intention to repeal the duty on inspectorates to prepare dedicated feedback for children on the findings of reviews of services which exist to protect and care for them.

The proposal to repeal this duty, in law for a decade, was made in a consultation document issued in the summer. Only five organisations responded to the consultation – two councils, the Ministry of Defence, one local safeguarding children board and the trade union Prospect. Four of the five respondents supported the repeal, and one opposed it. The government’s rationale for axing the duty is that Ofsted says it will continue to prepare summaries on a voluntary basis.

The same level of support was given to the government’s proposal to remove the duty on local authorities to send the results of the joint area review to at least one local newspaper and one local radio station. However, the Department for Education has backtracked on that proposal, “[b]ecause of the importance that the Government places on transparency”.

Joint area reviews were established by Section 20 of the Children Act 2004. The duty to prepare summaries for children was included in regulations issued the following year.

Article 39’s Director, Carolyne Willow, says:

“This is a seriously retrograde step. Inspectorates should be required by law to communicate directly to children, before, during and after inspections. Listening to children, and respecting their expertise, is vital to making sure services work in the most effective way. Professionals being made, by law, to sit down, think about children and to carefully write in a way that makes sense to them is an excellent mechanism for reminding us what the work is all about. This should not be left to the goodwill of Ofsted or any other body.”