Month: June 2019

Another child dies in prison

The BBC has reported that a 16 year-old boy, Caden Steward, died in Cookham Wood young offender institution in Kent on Thursday 27 June. His death is not believed to have been self-inflicted, and is said not to be suspicious.

This is the third child to die in Cookham Wood YOI since 2012. An investigation by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman will take place.

Article 39’s Director, Carolyne Willow, said:

“This is desperately sad news. No child should ever come to the end of their life in prison. The prison service has apparently said the boy’s death is not suspicious. But we should all question and distrust the morality of keeping very vulnerable children in these unsafe and archaic institutions.”

Two days before the boy’s death, a debate was held in Parliament on closing child prisons, led by Labour MP Emma Lewell-Buck. The Minister, Edward Argar, refused to give a timetable for the closure of child prisons, even though the Government agreed two and a half years ago that they would be phased out. In 2016, the Youth Justice Board admitted that young offender institutions and secure training centres are not fit for the purpose of keeping children safe or rehabilitation.

35 children have died in young offender institutions and secure training centres since 1990, the year the UK signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The treaty requires that children are only ever detained as a last resort and for the shortest period possible.

Article 39 is running a national ‘End Child Imprisonment’ campaign with the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, the Howard League for Penal Reform, INQUEST, Just for Kids Law, National Association for Youth Justice and the Standing Committee for Youth Justice. Read more about the campaign here.

Advocacy services for children and young people must be strengthened – Children’s Commissioner

The Children’s Commissioner has today (13 June) published her review of independent advocacy services in England. This shows that 29% of local authorities do not know how advocacy services are provided to children in respect of health complaints – despite them having a legal duty to make such arrangements since 2012. Nine local authorities were unable to say what advocacy arrangements are in place for social care complaints, even though this has been a statutory duty for 30 years.

A survey of managers of advocacy services found majority support (68%) for moving towards ‘one-stop’, local advocacy services – working across services and systems.

Advocacy services provide independent information and help to ensure children and young people are heard and their rights protected. The first service was set up by Leicestershire County Council in 1987. This was for children in care and care leavers. Now local authorities have myriad duties to arrange for independent advocacy for children and young people, including:

  • When they receive (or are entitled to) social care services
  • When they wish to make a complaint about a health service
  • When they are detained in a mental health unit
  • Young people who are homeless
  • Children who run away or go missing.

Independent advocates also visit and help children in young offender institutions and secure training centres, though there is no statutory duty for this. Many children’s homes and mental health hospitals have ‘visiting advocates’ who regularly spend time with children, gaining their trust and being there to help them be heard as individuals or collectively.

The Children’s Commissioner makes 10 recommendations for strengthening and improving children and young people’s advocacy, including a consolidation of the law so that entitlements to advocacy are clear and the revision of national standards (statutory guidance). She urges advocacy providers to publish an ‘independence statement’ which sets out to children and young people how the advocacy service is separate from health, social care and other services. Continuing revelations of human rights abuses in prisons and mental health units underline the importance of advocates being able to act robustly and independently for children.

Article 39’s Director, Carolyne Willow, was a member of the Commissioner’s working group for this review. She said:

“Advocates are vitally important for children and young people living in institutional settings, whether this be children’s homes, mental health units or prisons. They give strength and power to children’s voices and make sure their rights are upheld. For a child who feels alone and unheard, having a person who respects them and takes the time to listen – and makes others listen – can be truly revolutionary.

Advocates are also a lifeline for young people struggling in the community trying to access support and services.

We hope the government, local authorities and advocacy providers will quickly accept and implement the Commissioner’s important recommendations. As we celebrate 30 years of the Convention on the Rights of the Child this year, this report shows how to practically implement the treaty’s obligations. Advocates empower children who are often in extremely powerless situations; they are not an optional extra but a crucial mechanism for making sure all children enjoy their rights.

Article 39’s work with the Children’s Commissioner was instigated by the late John Kemmis, a brilliant champion for children and young people’s rights and advocacy services. We pay tribute to him.

The Commissioner’s report and recommendations can be found here.

Children not safe in St Andrews mental health hospital

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) has placed a mental health hospital for children in special measures.

St Andrew’s Healthcare Adolescent Service in Northamptonshire, which is registered as a charity, has been rated ‘inadequate’ overall and the same for safety, care and leadership following an inspection by the CQC.

Among the many damming findings, inspectors reported:

“On one occasion, staff did not respect a patient’s privacy and dignity when changing her clothing. While female staff were present, there were also male staff there at the time. It was the inspection team’s view that this was uncaring, undignified and disrespectful to the patient.”

Inspectors also found:

  • Between July 2018 and January 2019, there were 1,754 incidents of restraint. In one ward (Meadow), restraint was used 546 times with just 15 children during this period. Inspectors reviewed one incident where “staff had restrained the patient and changed them into rip proof clothing when the patient was presenting as calm and compliant”.
  • Eleven of the 15 ‘seclusion rooms’ did not have furnishings such as a bed, pillow, mattress or blanket.
  • Staff applied blanket restrictions without justification. All wards had imposed set snack times. Other restrictions were placed on access to drinks and takeaways. Children were not allowed to wear shoes on Meadow ward.
  • Staff on Willow ward locked en-suite rooms which meant children had to request staff to unlock them.
  • Staff shortages sometimes resulted in staff cancelling escorted leave, appointments or ward activities. Staff on Fern, Maple and Willow wards said the high use of bank and agency staff impacted on patient care.
  • There were sharp edges on door frames in ‘seclusion rooms’ and ‘extra care suites’, blind spots in ‘seclusion rooms’ and pieces of exposed sharp metal in ‘extra care suites’.
  • Staff did not always check emergency equipment and medicines.

Helen Donohoe, Assistant Director at Article 39, said:

“It is incomprehensible that such systematic abuse of children’s human rights can go on in an institution funded by the NHS. The denial of dignity and privacy and the failure to ensure basic levels of safety reveal a toxic environment that conflicts wholly with the care that children need to thrive and be well.

“It is clear from the CQC report that staff levels and the frequent use of agency staff was a factor in the poor care. This is a recurring issue and one that Article 39 is deeply concerned about.” 

Article 39 will be seeking information about the post-inspection actions taken to ensure the rights, dignity and safety of the children and young people in St Andrew’s Healthcare Adolescent Service. The inspection took place in March-April 2019.

We are especially keen to find out how children and young people are supported by independent advocates and how they are made aware of their rights. A review of 25 records found that nearly a third (7) failed to show that children had been informed of their rights either on admission or at the point of their detention.

Read the full inspection report.

Supreme Court rules local authorities can be held liable for failing to protect children from harm

In a much-awaited judgment handed down today (6 June), the Supreme Court has restored the right of children and young people to sue for negligence where a local authority has failed to protect them from harm. 

Article 39 and The Care Leavers’ Association jointly intervened in this landmark case, after a Court of Appeal decision in 2017 ruled against negligence liability in child protection because, among other things, this could lead to defensive decision-making by social workers. This blanket position has now been successfully overturned.

Today’s ruling clarifies that local authorities can be held to have a duty of care when they are carrying out their statutory child protection functions in respect of children for whom they have not previously accepted responsibility (by virtue of a care order for example). This has very important and welcome implications for children living in a variety of institutional settings and for care leavers.

Carolyne Willow, Article 39’s Director, said:

“We are incredibly relieved that the Supreme Court has reinstated the potential for children and young people to bring negligence claims against local authorities who have failed to protect them from harm. We are particularly concerned about the continuing scandals of mistreatment in child prisons and local authorities’ failures to take robust, protective action. Just this week inspectors have reported that children in Oakhill secure training centre and Feltham young offender institution have been inflicted with pain-inducing restraint techniques which the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has condemned as a form of child abuse.” 

David Graham, National Director of The Care Leavers’ Association, said:

“A court ruling that a local authority had a duty of care and acted negligently can give care leavers a real sense of justice and vindication, as well as financial compensation for harm that should never have happened. We hope the courts will now quickly deal with the backlog of cases from adults who were failed as children.”

Prior to the Court of Appeal decision in December 2017, local authorities had been held to have a duty of care in respect of their child protection functions (with liability to be decided by the facts of each case) since July 2003 following appeals brought by three separate families

Both of our charities are sorry that the claimants in this particular case were not successful in their negligence claim. Two young boys, one described as “severely disabled”, and their mother were subject to sustained and serious harassment from neighbours. They had been placed in their accommodation by Poole Council. One of the boys was the subject of a child protection plan. The family’s legal challenge was initially focused on the failings of the housing authority rather than children’s social care but it was the latter claim which progressed to the Supreme Court. 

Article 39 and The Care Leavers’ Association were represented by Oliver Studdert and Peter Garsden from Simpson Millar Solicitors and Aswini Weereratne QC, Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Nicholas Brown from Doughty Street Chambers.

Poole Borough Council (Respondent) v GN (through his litigation friend “The Official Solicitor”) and another (Appellants)