Category: Residential care

Children’s residential care review

Article 39 has submitted to the Children’s residential care review, which issued a call for evidence at the end of October 2015.

We urge the Review to vigorously defend the rights and safeguards that have evolved for children and young people in care over the past 25 years, and underline the leading role played by children, young people and adults with care experience who campaigned for these positive developments. Our specific recommendations include:

  • The introduction of a statutory, overaching purpose of care, which emphasises recovery from past harm and looked after children’s entitlements to support and services
  • Regular review and strengthening of safeguards, to ensure the most effective rights protection, and the same safeguards to apply to children living in different institutional settings
  • The rejection of child imprisonment and recognition of the superior model of secure care offered by secure children’s homes
  • Ensuring children and young people’s own measures of ‘what works’ are integrated into the Review’s framework for assessing residential care.

We also highlight the enormous importance of sibling relationships; the need for improved support as young people approach adulthood; and the reality that abuse still happens in residential care. In response to government concerns about value for money, we note the justfiable high cost of other welfare services for children and the absence of any research to indicate taxpayers begrudge contributing to the care and protection of children unable to live with their families. We also urge the Review to avoid perpetuating negative messages about children and young people in the care system.

Read our submission.

Sexual abuse in child custody and residential schools

The Goddard Inquiry has announced that the sexual abuse of children in custodial institutions, and the sexual abuse of children in residential schools, will form two of its first 12 investigations.

The scope of the custodial investigation is summarised as follows:

“The Inquiry will investigate the nature and extent of, and institutional responses to, the sexual abuse of children in custodial institutions, including Secure Children’s Homes, Secure Training Centres, Youth Offender Institutions, and their precursor institutions (‘custodial institutions’). The investigation shall incorporate case specific investigations and a review of information available from published and unpublished reports and reviews, court cases, and previous investigations in relation to the abuse of children in custodial institutions.”

Medomsley detention centre, in Durham, will be one of this investigation’s case studies. Run by the Home Office between 1961 and 1987, Medomsley detained 17 to 21 year-olds. The first reports of physical abuse emerged in 1967, when a mother contacted her local MP. Today, Durham police is investigating 1,240 complaints of abuse by former inmates.

The scope of the residential schools investigation is summarised as follows:

“The Inquiry will investigate the nature and extent of, and institutional responses to, child sexual abuse in residential schools, including schools in the state and independent sectors and schools for children with disabilities and/or special educational needs. The inquiry will incorporate case specific investigations, a review of information available from published and unpublished reports and reviews, court cases, and investigations, and a consideration of the Inquiry’s own commissioned research.”

Article 39’s Director, Carolyne Willow, comments:

“We very much welcome the inclusion of custody and residential schools within the Inquiry’s first investigations. There is so much to be acknowledged about the abuse of children in these environments. The investigation on sexual abuse in custody is particularly significant because this will involve robust, independent scrutiny of the actions – and inactions – of those working in central government, including within the prison service.”     

Two reports emphasise the risks (and realities) of rights violations

Two reports released yesterday underline the risks of rights violations in institutional settings.

The first, a leaked report obtained by the BBC, tells of a 17 year-old disabled girl who was living in a residential health setting in Plymouth. She was sedated and flown to an adult setting in Dundee, as she approached her 18th birthday in 2007. The BBC reports that no consent was sought or obtained from the girl, either for the medication or the transfer to Scotland. Her parents were also not consulted. The girl’s advocate opposed the actions but was ignored. Dr Gabriel Scally, the former head of public health in south-west England, fought to get an investigation into the unlawful treatment and was refused a copy of the subsequent report.

No information is contained in the BBC news piece about any recommendations the report may have made about wider implications for policy and practice. Clearly this case raises questions about the power of advocates to take action to defend the rights of children when there is an immediate threat of violation.

The second report was published by the prisons inspectorate and is a review of the Minimising and Managing Physical Restraint (MMPR) system introduced in secure training centres from 2013 and due to be used in all young offender institutions by July 2016. As the chief inspector of prisons explains in his introduction, MMPR was developed following the restraint-related deaths of two boys, Gareth Myatt and Adam Rickwood, in secure training centres in 2004. The review found:

  • Prison officers in young offender institutions regularly inflict severe pain as a form of restraint. These techniques would only be lawful in extreme situations, yet the inspectorate found “pain used for non-compliance and failure to obey staff instructions immediately. In one use of force record, the reason for use of pain was recorded as ‘refusal to move back to cell. Needed to move [child] to continue with the regime’.”

    Another shocking case concerns a child with a broken wrist (inspectors don’t say whether the injury occurred during restraint). The boy was threatened with pain because he refused to follow orders. Inspectors concluded, “Poor recording and unclear CCTV footage meant that we were unable to verify if a pain-inducing technique was actually used on the boy.”

    Spot checks on general restraint records revealed that pain had been used more times than the prisons had officially recorded.

  • Frequent reports of children struggling to breathe during restraint, with some staff sceptical that children are telling the truth when they complain of being unable to breathe. The report reminds readers that Gareth told the three officers holding him down that he couldn’t breathe. They refused to believe him, retorting: “If you can talk, you can breathe” and Gareth died within minutes.
  • “Several examples” of children having all of their clothes removed whilst being restrained. A case study graphically highlights the assault on children’s dignity: “One boy we spoke to was restrained after threatening staff with a broken plastic knife. Once staff had restrained him and taken the knife, he was moved to a special cell and asked to remove his clothes: ‘When they got me to the special cell they asked me to take my clothes off. I said I would … They took me straight to the floor, before I had a chance to do it myself. Someone put a knee in my back, which did hurt a lot. They took my shirt off completely, then my trousers, boxers and shoes. They chucked a jumper on me to cover my bum.’”
  • “Dangerous examples” of restraint being used on children with medical or other conditions. Inspectors report that, “In general, staff were unfamiliar with the content of [individual restraint] plans; this was a serious oversight that could have led to significant injuries.”
  • Girls being restrained in a way which evokes past abuse. For example, one girl reported, “‘One member of staff grabbed my neck and then others pushed me to the ground and held me there telling me to calm down. While I was on the floor a male member of staff was holding my head almost between his knees. I have been sexually abused in the past so you can imagine how that made me feel. I was terrified.’”
  • Inspectors watched CCTV footage of children being kept in a head hold whilst being walked up and down flights of stairs and across long distances. Painful techniques were used even after children had calmed down. Children’s accounts in the report include, “‘I had my wrist bent back; all the while I was walking up the stairs. It was really painful. I went up three landings with my neck and wrist in flexion.’” and “‘My wrists were behind my back and my head was pushed down and I was taken all the way to the seg like that. I wasn’t kicking or going mad but I was trying to struggle because I wanted to get some control back.’”

Many more examples of abusive treatment are contained in the inspectorate’s detailed report. Its 10 recommendations include the cessation of restraint techniques which deliberately inflict pain on children, no more strip-searching under restraint and Local Safeguarding Children Boards and local authorities ensuring they are equipped to maintain effective independent oversight of restraint.

BASW raises concerns about residential care review

The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) has expressed concern about the review of residential care, announced by the Prime Minister last week. It questions why such a review is required, since a parliamentary inquiry was undertaken on children’s homes in 2013. Social workers “find it hard not to see this latest announcement as anything more than a further roll out of the government’s privatisation agenda”, BASW adds.

The review will be undertaken by Sir Martin Narey, who was chief executive of Barnardo’s following a long career in the prison service. In August, he was appointed to the board of the Ministry of Justice.

Narey issued a call for evidence on 28 October, with a deadline of 31 December 2015. The consultation document has no questions but states Narey intends to explore:

  • the types of residential care that are currently provided, in order to understand the full range of provision which is available and when and for which young people it is best used
  • what works within residential care settings to improve outcomes for the young people placed in them
  • what improvements could be made to the way that residential care provision is commissioned, delivered, regulated and inspected to improve outcomes and value for money
  • whether there are better alternatives for some of the children who are currently in residential care
  • any other issues which might contribute to better outcomes for children in care.

He has specifically asked for the views of children, young people and adults who once lived in residential care.

The scope of the review will extend to secure children’s homes, residential schools, secure training centres and young offender institutions. Of these, only secure children’s homes are presently not run by private companies. There is clear overlap with Charlie Taylor’s review of youth justice, which also includes custodial institutions. Narey is due to report in spring 2016 and Taylor in summer 2016.

Article 39 will be submitting to the review.

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.