End child imprisonment

A joint campaign to end child imprisonment – run by a steering group of Article 39, the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, Howard League for Penal Reform, INQUEST, Just for Kids Law, the National Association for Youth Justice and the Standing Committee for Youth Justice with leading independent experts – launches a week of action today.

We begin with a new mini-documentary produced by The Open University and will launch a joint publication at the end of the week.

The week of action is timed to mark the 15th anniversary of the death of Gareth Myatt. It follows February’s report from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. The inquiry’s Chair Alexis Jay said she is “deeply disturbed by the continuing problem of child sexual abuse in these institutions over the last decade. It is clear these children, who are some of the most vulnerable in society, are still at risk of sexual abuse.

Gareth Myatt loved riding his bike and watching South Park and the Simpsons. He was academically very able and his favourite game was chess.


Fifteen years ago, on 19 April 2004, Gareth Myatt was fatally restrained by three officers in Rainsbrook secure training centre in Northamptonshire. Gareth was aged 15; he weighed just 6½ stone and stood less than five feet tall.


GOVERNMENT WITHDRAWS ‘MYTH BUSTING’ DOCUMENT AFTER LEGAL CHALLENGE

The Department for Education has withdrawn a controversial document about council duties to vulnerable children and young people, after Article 39 launched an application for judicial review.

The so-called ‘myth busting’ guide advised local authorities that they are legally permitted to reduce and remove support from children in long-term foster care, children who run away or go missing from home or care, children who are remanded to custody and young people who have left care and are still living with their former foster carers. 

Children’s Minister Nadhim Zahawi claimed the document simply clarified council duties, but Article 39 and 49 other charities and social work experts warned last September it contained numerous inaccuracies and risked vulnerable children and care leavers losing vital support. 

After correspondence with the Minister failed to elicit any agreement to correct the errors, or even a meeting to discuss our collective concerns, Article 39 instructed lawyers to begin legal proceedings.

Carolyne Willow, Article 39’s Director, said:

“It’s deeply disappointing that the Children’s Minister didn’t respond to our serious concerns months ago but what matters is that the document has now been withdrawn and the risks to children and young people minimised. We are relieved and delighted that children’s rights have prevailed.

“There is of course the possibility that social workers and local authority managers have already used the guide and we hope that councils will quickly review and rectify any removal or reduction of support.”   

As well as deleting it from the children’s social care innovation programme’s website, the Department for Education has committed to notify local authorities and others that the document has been withdrawn. It has also confirmed that any plans to issue a similar document in the future will follow a consultation process that includes Article 39, relevant organisations and children and young people who may be directly affected.

Oliver Studdert, solicitor at Simpson Millar, representing Article 39, said:

“It is absolutely right that this guide has been withdrawn. It is unfortunate that it has taken the issuing of court proceedings to achieve this, but it is reassuring that the Secretary of State has now acknowledged the concerns of Article 39 and other charities and experts concerning the removal of vital statutory safeguards for vulnerable children and care leavers.”

Notes

1.       As a very small charity, Article 39 was only able to take legal action to protect the rights of vulnerable children through pledges of financial support from organisations and individuals, including the British Association of Social Workers, The Centre for Outcomes of Care, Cherry Cottage Ltd, MAC-UK, Napo (Family Court Section), National Association for Youth Justice, National Association of Independent Reviewing Officers, NSPCC and the Social Workers Union.

2.       The 50 organisations and social work experts who wrote to the Children’s Minister last September, urging him to withdraw the inaccurate parts of the document, were: The Aire Centre; Article 39; Association of Independent Visitors and Consultants to Child Care Services; Association of Lawyers for Children; Association of Professors of Social Work; Association of Youth Offending Team Managers; Become; British Association of Social Workers England; The Care Leavers’ Association; Children England; Child Rights International Network; Coram Children’s Legal Centre; Coram Voice; ECPAT UK; Family Action; The Fostering Network; Howard League for Penal Reform; Independent Children’s Homes Association; Just for Kids Law; The MAC Project (Central England Law Centre and the Astraea Project); Nagalro, Professional Association of Children’s Guardians, Family Court Advisers and Independent Social Workers; National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC); National Association for Youth Justice; National Association of Independent Reviewing Officers; National IRO Managers Partnership; NYAS (National Youth Advocacy Service); Parents Of Traumatised Adopted Teens Organisation (The Potato Group); Refugee Council; Social Workers Union; Social Workers Without Borders; Southwark Law Centre; UNISON; Dr Maggie Atkinson, Children’s Commissioner for England 2010-2015; Sir Al Aynsley-Green, first Children’s Commissioner for England 2005-10; Wendy Bannerman, Director of Right Resolution CIC; Jay Barlow, Napo National Vice-Chair; Liz Davies Emeritus Professor of Social Work, London Metropolitan University; Anna Gupta, Professor of Social Work, Royal Holloway University of London; Pam Hibbert OBE; Ray Jones, Emeritus Professor of Social Work, Kingston University and St George’s, University of London; John Kemmis, former Chief Executive Voice, NAIRO Patron and Article 39 Expert Panel member; Dr Mark Kerr, Managing Partner, The Centre for Outcomes of Care; Jenny Molloy, Author, Adviser and Trainer; David Palmer, Lecturer in Criminal Justice Services, University of Northampton; Peter Saunders, Founder NAPAC; Mike Stein, Emeritus Professor, University of York; June Thoburn CBE, Emeritus Professor of Social Work, University of East Anglia; Dr Nigel Thomas, Professor Emeritus of Childhood and Youth, University of Central Lancashire; Judith Timms OBE, Founder and Trustee of the National Youth Advocacy Service (NYAS) and a Vice President of the Family Mediators Association; and Jane Tunstill, Emeritus Professor of Social Work, Royal Holloway, London University.

3.       Article 39 is represented by Oliver Studdert, Partner in Public Law and Eleanor Gauld at Simpson Millar, and Steve Broach and Khatija Hafesji from Monckton Chambers.

4.       Our application was made to the High Court on 18 February 2019.

Hospital restraint probe reveals lack of basic safeguards

Following the suspension of 20 members of staff from the Westwood Centre at West Lane Hospital in Middlesbrough, Article 39 submitted a freedom of information request to gain details of restraint techniques authorised for use on children there. The staff were suspended after using unauthorised restraint methods.

The FOI response from Tees Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust reveals an alarming lack of accountability, reporting and sparse information sharing with child patients and their parents/carers.

Westwood Centre cares for just 12 children at a time. Our FOI request reveals that:

  • In 2013/14 two formal complaints were made by children and young people and/or their parents;
  • This rose to 10 complaints in 2017/18; and
  • Eight complaints have been lodged from 2018 to date.

No written information was given to us about approved restraint techniques, and in the FOI response the Trust said no information is provided to children and parents.

The Mental Health Act 1983 grants children detained in the Westwood Centre the right to an independent mental health advocate when they make a complaint.

However, we’ve been told no child received assistance from an independent advocate when making a complaint between 2013/14 and 2016/17.

In 2017/18 only two children received support (when 10 had made complaints). Similarly, just two of eight complainants have received help from an advocate from 2018 to date.

Helen Donohoe, Article 39’s Assistant Director, said:

“A child or young person’s right to an independent advocate in settings such as the Westwood Unit is an essential safeguard against poor and dangerous practice, including the use of excessive restraint. We are alarmed that so many complaints could occur without children and young people receiving assistance from independent advocates, to make sure they are heard and their rights upheld. We are seeking assurance that the current investigation will address that now, and for future practice.”

The CQC inspected the NHS Foundation Trust in 2018 and found that:

The trust had made improvements since the last inspection as continued to monitor the use of restraint on Newberry and Westwood wards. The numbers of restraint on both wards have increased which management attributed to the acuity of patients. However, in 2015 prone restraint was 25% and 50% of total restraints on the respective wards however this had reduced significantly to the current figures of 3% and 6% of all restraints on these wards. Staff understood that the use of restraint was a last resort. They used de-escalation and low levels of restraint to manage incidents of aggression wherever possible. Staff ensured they documented episodes of restraint, and rapid tranquilisation in accordance with trust policy.

Extract from CQC inspection report, 2018

Article 39 is now seeking further information, including:

  • What was done in the five years before the staff suspensions to address the rise in complaints.
  • What restraint methods were approved for use on children, and why is information about authorised techniques not given to children and their parents.
  • Why is there a seemingly low use of independent advocates? Has material been produced especially for children about their right to an independent advocate? Who is responsible for making sure children and young people detained in the Centre are heard and their rights upheld?
  • How the perspectives of children and young people and their parents were considered during the CQC inspection in 2018; and how they they will be included in the current investigation.

Medway child prison will be site of experimental secure school, despite history of failure to protect children

Last month, Article 39 and 35 others wrote jointly to the Ministers responsible for child protection and child prisons urging them to abandon plans to open an experimental secure school on the site of Medway secure training centre.

A serious case review showed substantial failure both within the institution, and among local and national agencies, to keep children safe. This was followed by an inspection report, published on 29 January 2019, which revealed children had been recently unlawfully inflicted with pain as a form of restraint. The secure training centre transferred from G4S to Ministry of Justice management in July 2016.

We received a letter this week – see below – from Edward Argar MP, responsible for child prisons. He said he was also replying on behalf of Nadhim Zahawi MP, whose Ministerial portfolio includes child protection and safeguarding vulnerable children.

Given our joint letter was wholly about the safety and welfare of very vulnerable children, many of them in the care system, it is very disappointing that Minister Zahawi did not, at the very least, countersign the letter.

But the most astonishing part of the response is the Government’s explanation for using Medway secure training centre as its first experimental secure school:

“Medway STC stood out for several reasons – including location, our ownership of the site and the absence of any need to go through a potentially protracted and expensive planning application.”

Edward Argar MP, Youth Justice Minister

On location, official data published by the Ministry of Justice shows 58 children from the South East region of England were detained in December 2018. However, 228 children were detained within the region – meaning that 170 children were from outside the area. Over a quarter (27%) of children in custody are sent to the South East region. The Government’s own data therefore shows that extra provision is not required in this location.

Moreover, one of the documents produced by the Ministry of Justice to encourage companies to apply to run the first experimental secure school notes that there are no secure settings in England’s Eastern region – yet 77 children from that area are detained, according to latest figures.

That the Ministry of Justice owns the prison site has no credibility as a reason for choosing it as the place to pilot an institution meant to be completely different from existing child prisons.

There is a very long history of the prison service’s ownership of land, as opposed to children’s needs, determining where institutions are built. The location of Medway secure training centre itself was selected in the late 1990s because the prison service ran the nearby Cookham Wood young offender institution and Rochester prison.

Prior to its opening in 1998, Medway secure training centre was known as Cookham Wood secure training centre – showing its links to the adjacent prison. Its other neighbouring prison, Rochester, was once called Borstal prison, and was the site of the first ever experimental child prison – which opened in 1902.

Similarly, the Government’s avoidance of having to “go through a potentially protracted and expensive planning application” makes no sense if Ministers genuinely want to abandon penal institutions for children. Whenever a local authority or health body wishes to open a new residential service, for children or adults, they must go through the planning process.

Article 39’s Director, Carolyne Willow, said:

“The Minister’s response signals his department continues to be trapped in a cycle of failure with the perpetual remodelling of child prisons. The first experiment in child prisons started in the same geographical location as the planned secure school. That was 117 years ago.

“If Ministers are truly behind replacing young offender institutions and secure training centres, they must surrender their dependence on prison land and prison property.

“And if they genuinely want secure schools to be secure children’s homes, as their promotional literature says, then why not build upon and develop the best of existing provision run by local authorities as part of their wider services to children and families?”

The Minister’s letter can be read here.
Our joint letter to the minister can be read here.

In December 2016, the Government announced it shares the long-term vision of Charlie Taylor (Chair of Youth Justice Board) to replace juvenile young offender institutions and secure training centres with secure schools.

Pain-inducing restraint of vulnerable children: legal challenge on hold

Adam Rickwood photograph
Adam Rickwood hanged himself in 2004, aged 14, after Serco officers unlawfully restrained him – including by striking him in the nose. The ‘nose distraction’ was then an authorised restraint technique.

Article 39’s application for permission to apply for judicial review of the authorisation of pain-inducing restraint on children has been stayed pending the Charlie Taylor Review and the report of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights.

This means we can return to court should children’s human rights continue to be breached after both investigations have concluded.

With financial backing from 196 donors, we have been challenging the Ministry of Justice’s authorisation of pain-inducing restraint during detained children’s journeys to and from secure children’s homes. GEOAmey holds the contract for prisoner and secure escorts. 

We have argued that the Government’s policy breaches children’s rights to protection from inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, and to protection from discrimination, under Articles 3 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Pain-inducing restraint within secure children’s homes is banned. 

We are also pressing for clear and public rules setting out when children may be restrained during their journeys to and from places of detention. 

Our challenge led the Ministry of Justice to review its policy on pain-inducing restraint during children’s journeys to and from custody. It then committed to a much wider review of pain-inducing restraint across young offender institutions, secure training centres and secure children’s homes – as well as the escorting process. This is being undertaken by Charlie Taylor and is expected to report no later than Summer 2019.

Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights is also conducting an inquiry into the solitary confinement and restraint of children in custody. The Committee recommended the abolition of pain-inducing restraint techniques in children’s custodial institutions in 2008 and 2009. Since then the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and the UN Committee Against Torture have all urged the withdrawal of these harmful techniques.

Article 39’s Director, Carolyne Willow, said:

“With the Charlie Taylor Review, this is the first time Ministers have commissioned a stand-alone investigation of the deliberate infliction of pain on vulnerable children. This has only happened because of our legal challenge, and we are extremely grateful to all those who donated funds and to our excellent legal team.  

“This year is the fifteenth anniversary of the death of Adam Rickwood, a 14-year-old boy who hanged himself after officers deliberately assaulted him in the nose – which was then an authorised method of restraint. A second inquest into his death found he had been unlawfully restrained. 

“It’s been a very long wait to get this basic child protection, where members of staff are not allowed to strike a child in the name of restraint, but we are now the closest we have ever been.

“There is no question that we will return to court should the Charlie Taylor and Joint Committee on Human Rights’ reviews not result in children receiving the protection to which they are entitled.”

Article 39 is represented by Mark Scott, Partner at Bhatt Murphy Solicitors, and Dan Squires QC and Tamara Jaber from Matrix Chambers.