Category: Institutional child abuse

Article 39 urges greater focus on child’s wishes and feelings

In its response to the government’s consultation on statutory safeguarding guidance, Article 39 urges “much greater prominence to independent advocacy” as a means of ensuring children’s wishes and feelings are known, understood and valued. We advocate the following additions to the guidance:

  • Local authorities should be required to produce age appropriate information to children and young people about their right to independent advocacy, how they can access such support and the benefits of having an advocate (this mirrors existing statutory guidance relating to independent advocacy and independent reviewing officers).
  • Local authorities should be required to provide age appropriate information to children and young people about independent advocacy whenever they are determining what services to provide under s17 of the Children Act 1989, and what action to take under s47 of the Children Act 1989.
  • The guidance should describe the role of independent advocates in ensuring the child’s wishes and feelings are known and understood and accorded due consideration (having regard to his or her age and understanding) in the various assessment and review processes, including child protection conferences.
  • Children should be signposted to the advice and assistance offered by independent advocacy services when they are informed of the outcome of s47 enquiries (this is especially pertinent when concerns about significant harm have been found to be unsubstantiated and it was the child who initially sought help).
  • In respect of institutional settings, the guidance should require local authorities to make arrangements for all children for whom there are safeguarding concerns to be proactively visited by an independent advocate, wherever practicable before a strategy discussion is held.
  • All institutional settings must be required to include key learning and action taken in response to children and young people’s use of independent advocacy services in their annually reviewed safeguarding children policy.
  • Safeguarding partners should monitor and evaluate the availability and effectiveness of independent advocacy in ensuring the child’s wishes and feelings are ascertained and given due consideration and statutory safeguarding obligations are upheld.
  • Safeguarding partners should monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of training for practitioners on children’s rights and safeguarding, including the role of independent advocates.

In addition, we advocate for the restoration of the section on ‘Keeping the child in focus’, which was added to the 2010 version of the guidance but deleted in 2013.

We argue for distinct guidance on how agencies should respond to concerns about institutional child abuse. Research conducted by Article 39 shows the majority of allegations against adults working with children in institutional settings are not dealt with under Section 47 of the Children Act 1989 (which governs child protection enquiries), where local authorities are under a duty to ascertain and give due consideration to the child’s wishes and feelings. Our submission explains:

we fear that professionals are making judgements about abuse without children ever being seen or heard by a child protection social worker independent of the institution.

The draft guidance signposts the elements of an effective safeguarding system. We propose children’s right to recovery from maltreatment and trauma be added to this, and suggest the following text:

the immediate and long-term effects of childhood maltreatment and trauma are properly understood and attended to, so that children are given the individual care and assistance they need to recover.

We recommend that all places of child detention be required to undertake annual restraint reviews, and that all deaths of children in the care of the state be considered for a national child safeguarding practice review. The draft guidance currently requires such consideration only for children in the care of local authorities, which would exclude many children serving custodial sentences, children in mental health in-patient units and children in immigration detention.

Given increasing levels of child poverty and homelessness, we suggest the definition of neglect is adjusted to acknowledge the steps parents take to try and provide their children with food, clothing and shelter and the obligations of the state to uphold the socio-economic human rights of children.

Read our submission here:
Article 39 Working Together response December 2017

Article 39 calls for government guidance on responding to institutional child abuse allegations

Article 39 has today published a briefing on the results of our pioneering research on allegations made against adults working in children’s institutional settings between 2012 and 2015, and the action taken by local authorities.

53 councils were notified of 2,479 allegations against adults working with children in institutions across this three-year period.

We make three recommendations for ensuring the child protection system works for children living in institutions:

1) The Department for Education and inspectorates consider routinely publishing data on abuse allegations and outcomes.

2) The Department for Education develop distinct guidance for local authorities on responding to institutional abuse allegations.

3) The Department for Education commission qualitative research into children’s experiences of the child protection system when they live in institutional settings.

Headline findings were first shared at our national seminar on International Children’s Rights Day (20 November). You can download the briefing from the library section of our site.

Serious case review into former G4S child prison

The BBC has reported that a serious case review has been launched into the abuse of child prisoners in G4S child prison, Medway secure training centre.

In January 2016, BBC Panorama broadcast disturbing footage of children being physically and emotionally abused by officers. The then Justice Secretary, Michael Gove, established the Medway Improvement Board, which made a series of recommendations for improving the care and protection of children. The prison was transferred from G4S to the prison service in July 2016.

At the end of February 2016, G4S announced it would be selling its children’s business. This has not yet happened. It continues to run another child prison, Oakhill secure training centre, and several children’s homes. It also runs a prison unit for children attached to an adult prison in Wales. Last week, the Guardian newspaper reported that the Home Office plans to hand the contract for safeguarding children’s welfare in immigration detention to G4S. The children’s charity Barnardo’s formerly held this contract.

Article 39 has consistently pressed for a serious case review into the systemic abuse of children in Medway secure training centre. We provided evidence to the Chair of the Local Safeguarding Children Board of unsafe and possibly unlawful restraint.

This will be the first ever serious case review examining the institutional abuse of children in prison; others were established following the restraint-related deaths of Gareth Myatt and Adam Rickwood, though they did not examine claims of wider mistreatment.

In January 2012, the High Court found unlawful restraint had been widespread in the four secure training centres for a decade, possibly longer. At the time, G4S ran three of the centres and Serco ran the fourth.

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).