Month: April 2016

Abuse allegations in child prisons

April’s issue of Independent Monitor, the publication of the Association of Members of Independent Monitoring Boards, includes a review by Article 39’s Director of monitoring in child prisons, and the action taken in response to abuse allegations.

The article includes some results from Article 39’s FOI research on abuse allegations in institutional settings, and local authorities’ responses to these. We particularly sought to elicit how many abuse allegations result in a Section 47 enquiry by local authorities: this is the part of the Children Act 1989 requiring investigations of significant harm and, crucially, it states the child’s wishes and feelings must be given due consideration.

Back in 2002, the Howard League for Penal Reform won a successful legal challenge confirming local authorities have a duty to investigate significant harm in prisons, just as they do in families.

Only three of six local authorities with child prisons in their area provided Article 39 with information in response to our freedom of information request. Of these:

  • One had data for a period lasting less than seven months in 2014/15 and indicated there had been 25 child protection allegations in that time. The local authority was unable to offer data on Section 47 enquiries or outcomes, incorrectly stating that it would be the ‘home’ local authority of the child which would undertake these (the duty applies to the local authority in which the institution is located).
  • Another local authority said there were 82 allegations across the three years, with only 28 of these cases subject to a Section 47 enquiry. All 82 allegations were found to be unsubstantiated.
  • The third local authority reported 86 allegations, with 33 subject to a Section 47 enquiry, and nine substantiated; 10 members of staff were disciplined as a consequence.

Article 39’s Director, Carolyne Willow, says:

“At the very least, our research rings louder alarm bells about the capacity of the child protection system to properly investigate and monitor abuse allegations in custody. However, children being ignored, disbelieved and left in unsafe environments is the worst fear”.

In December 2015, the Youth Justice Board published its first annual safeguarding report. This did not include any data about abuse allegations in custody, and the responses of statutory agencies.

7,784 restraints led to injuries in child custody 2007-2015

Data released today to Labour’s Shadow Justice Minister, Andy Slaughter MP, reveals there were 7,784 restraint incidents leading to child injuries in custodial institutions between 2007 and 2015. Across these eight years:

  • 4,092 restraints in young offender institutions resulted in children being injured
  • 2,583 restraints in secure training centres resulted in children being injured
  • 1,109 restraints in secure children’s homes resulted in children being injured

Sixteen institutions closed over the eight-year period.

Counting incidents for only those institutions which remained open for the whole eight years, the data reveals the four secure training centres had a much higher rate of restraints leading to child injuries: an average of 81 incidents per year per institution across each of the eight years.

The average for the nine young offender institutions with data for the full eight years was 48 restraint incidents per year per institution; and for 10 secure children’s homes with full data the average was 13 per home per year.

The five institutions with the highest incidents of restraint leading to child injuries across the whole time period were:

  • Hindley young offender institution, with 969 incidents (run by the UK prison service)*
  • Hassockfield secure training centre, with 945 incidents (run by Serco)*
  • Medway secure training centre, with 833 incidents (run by G4S)
  • Wetherby young offender institution, with 586 incidents (run by UK prison service)
  • Rainsbrook secure training centre, with 577 incidents (run by G4S)

The five institutions with the least number of incidents of restraint leading to child injuries were:

  • Barton Moss secure children’s home, with 7 incidents (run by Salford City Council Children’s Services)
  • Aldine House secure children’s home, with 25 incidents (run by Sheffield City Council Children’s Services)
  • Swanwick Lodge secure children’s home, with 69 incidents (run by Hampshire County Council Children’s Services)
  • Hillside secure children’s home, with 77 incidents (run by Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council Children’s Services)
  • Lincolnshire secure children’s home, with 89 incidents (run by Lincolnshire County Council Children’s Services)

Although the Shadow Justice Minister requested data on the number of child injuries, he was only provided with the incidents of restraints which led to injuries. This means the scale of child injuries remains unknown.

Annual restraint statistics published by the Youth Justice Board have to date included only restraint incidents that led to injuries requiring medical or hospital treatment. These latest figures go further than those released in January 2016, covering all types of injuries, since data for individual institutions is provided for the very first time.

The Parliamentary Question (answered 8 April 2016) is here.

*These two institutions have since closed. The data relates to the periods between the year ending March 2008 and the year ending March 2015.

Parliamentary support for children’s homes to 21

A representative survey of 150 Members of Parliament has found majority support for giving young people the right to stay in their children’s homes until the age of 21.

This right was granted to young people living in foster care through the Children and Families Act 2014, and brought into force from April 2014.

A consortium of private providers of education and social care to children and vulnerable adults, the Children’s Services Development Group, commissioned COMRes to poll the MPs on a variety of issues relating to the provision of children’s services.

On introducing a legal duty on local authorities to enable young people to stay in their children’s homes past 18, on a par with those in foster care:

  • 47% of MPs tended to agree, or strongly agreed with this
  • 15% tended to disagree, or strongly disagreed
  • 36% said they did not know

Support for extending the duty differed between the political parties (though there were small samples for each):

  • 65% of Labour MPs tended to agree, or strongly agreed with extending the duty
  • 41% of Conservative MPs tended to agree, or strongly agreed with extending the duty
  • 22% of SNP MPs tended to agree, or strongly agreed with extending the duty
  • 37% of MPs from other political parties supported extending the duty.

Article 39 highlighted the unequal ‘Staying Put’ arrangements, in our submission last year to Sir Martin Narey’s review of residential care. We argued:

“The emotional, practical and financial support offered to care leavers is an essential part of improving residential care, because this significantly extends the period of time during which young people can recover from past trauma, abuse and neglect. It gives them stability and a sense of security.

The unequal ‘Staying Put’ arrangements for young people living in foster care and children’s homes cannot be justified from the perspective of the needs and rights of these young people. We are aware that one of the explanations given by government for not extending Staying Put to those in children’s homes is the safeguarding implications of homes looking after both children and adults. These challenges exist for foster carers too, perhaps at an increased level since children feature prominently in most families.”

Section 20(5) of the Children Act 1989 already empowers local authorities to place a child over the age of 16 but under 20 years in a children’s home, if this would safeguard or promote the child’s welfare.

Access the poll here.