Month: November 2016

Medway secure training centre – 10 months on

In January this year, the BBC broadcast undercover filming of the abuse of children at Medway secure training centre. Kent Police subsequently made 11 arrests and eight individuals were later charged.

Medway Safeguarding Children Board has still not announced whether it intends to commission an independent serious case review. Article 39’s Director wrote to the Board’s Chair in June, to share information obtained through FOI requests about injuries and breathing difficulties sustained by children during restraint and to urge an independent review.

Now that the Department for Education’s Serious Case Review Panel’s annual report has been published, and contains no explicit reference to Medway, we have submitted an FOI request to the DfE for a copy of any advice the Panel has issued to the Board.

Medway secure training centre is a prison for children aged 12 to 17. It was the first of four secure training centres to be opened by the former Labour Government: three were run by G4S and one by Serco. At least three-quarters of the children first detained at Medway, when it opened in April 1998, had formerly lived in children’s homes. G4S ran the prison from 1998 to July 2016, when it transferred to government control. Last month, the Guardian reported senior managers at Medway were paid bonuses in April.

The multinational continues to run Oakhill secure training centre in Milton Keynes, Parc prison for boys and young adults in South Wales and several children’s homes. In February it announced it would sell its children’s services business, though this has not yet happened. In May, G4S published its corporate social responsibility annual report which includes a full-page on the child abuse allegations, under the heading “An open approach to addressing human rights issues”.

Earlier this month, a G4S manager’s assault case was dismissed. The prosecution told the court that CCTV footage appeared to show the 24 year-old manager striking a child in the face. Afterwards, the boy seemed “to clutch his face for some time”. The 15 year-old refused to pursue a complaint against the manager, telling a social worker he “probably deserved it”. The defence said the incident was banter and the footage (with no recorded sound) failed to show the manager’s hand connecting with the boy. The Chair of the Magistrates’ Bench concluded, “We feel we cannot properly convict Ms Harold based on the evidence we have seen and therefore there is no case to answer”.

Read our G4S Medway timeline and Secure training centres in numbers (different site).

A fantastic vote for children’s rights

Peers have voted to remove Clause 29 from the Children and Social Work Bill. The Minister, Lord Nash, also indicated the Government would take out Clause 32.

Article 39 has been campaigning since the Bill was introduced in May to have these exemption clauses removed.

Clause 29 allows local councils to ask the Secretary of State to be excused from any of their legal duties in children’s social care legislation, dating back to 1933.

245 Peers voted in support of Lord Ramsbotham’s amendment to delete the clause from the Bill, and 213 backed the Government.

Clause 32 empowers the Secretary of State to impose legal opt outs on struggling councils, without any local consultation or agreement.

At the end of September, Article 39 was one of the founders of the Together for Children campaign, which seeks the removal of the exempton clauses. The campaign now has 43 organisations as members, and around 150 individual experts have signed up. Our 38 degrees public petition was close to 105,000 signatures at the time of the Lords vote.

We are absolutely delighted that the vital rights of children and care leavers have been defended. Our Director, Carolyne Willow, said:

“Today’s vote is an incredibly strong affirmation of children’s rights and the unique role Parliament has in creating, revising and strengthening children’s law.

“The fundamental flaw with Clause 29 was that it allowed highly vulnerable children to have different legal protections on the arbitrary basis of where they happen to live. Peers have determined this to be unacceptable.

“We hope the Government will now listen and respond to the huge opposition its plans have provoked. The very worst response to this defeat would be for Ministers to simply reinsert the Clause when the Bill enters the Commons.”

Peers urged to defend the rights of vulnerable children

Article 39 has delivered its final briefing to Peers, for this stage of debates on the Children and Social Work Bill.

We have asked Peers to support amendments tabled by Lord Ramsbotham, Lord Watson, Lord Warner and Lord Low, which would remove Clauses 29-33 from the Bill. The amendments will be voted on tomorrow afternoon (Tuesday, 8 November).

Clauses 29-33 introduce a fast-track process for the removal of council duties to vulnerable children and care leavers. Article 39 is one of 43 organisations publicly opposing these legal opt outs. Our Director, Carolyne Willow, says:

“Not a shred of evidence has been offered by the Government to make the case for this radical legislation. We have not been able to find any similar legal opt outs in children’s social care systems in other European countries. Legal obligations to children in dire need of care, protection and support have built up over 80 years. They are far too precious to be sacrificed to this ill-thought out and dangerous experiment.”

Read our briefing here.
Read ‘The truth about plans to allow councils to opt out of child protection laws’, published today (different site).