Tag: Child abuse

Joint call for closure of Medway secure training centre & secure school

With 35 others, yesterday Article 39 sent a joint open letter to the Justice and Children’s Ministers urging them to close Medway secure training centre and discontinue plans to make it the country’s first experimental secure school.

The move comes after the publication of a serious case review into the centre, and last week’s Ofsted inspection report which revealed children are still being unlawfully restrained there.

Article 39’s Director, Carolyne Willow, said:

“Whenever there is institutional failure stretching back many years, there comes a point when someone in charge has to take decisive action and say ‘enough is enough’. The serious case review and the latest inspection report show deep fault lines in protecting children.

“If this child prison was a children’s home or a school, its gates would have been closed shortly after the shocking BBC Panorama exposé of physical and emotional abuse three years ago.

“Ministers must stand up to the false optimism that the institution can reform itself, and local and national agencies will properly scrutinise and protect children. The continuing revelations show that this is not possible. A change of name to secure school and a small refurbishment is not going to address the systemic failings. The centre must be closed for good.”

 

Systemic and serious child protection failures – G4S and Medway Safeguarding Children Board

Medway Safeguarding Children Board has this afternoon published the serious case review it commissioned into the abuse of children in G4S-run Medway secure training centre, which was exposed by a BBC Panorama programme in January 2016.

Carolyne Willow, Article 39’s Director, said:

“This review confirms what millions of us watched on the BBC Panorama programme: that G4S failed to protect children from staff violence and cruelty. The new revelation is that the local systems for protecting children in this institution were utterly ineffective and at times expressly working against keeping children safe. 

“The extent to which local authorities are left to create their own arrangements for responding to institutional abuse allegations cannot be right. Nor is it acceptable that so much onus is placed on children to know they are being mistreated and to seek help.

“The serious case review highlights that children’s past experiences can affect their recognition of abuse, and their confidence in speaking out. But there are also very powerful institutional factors which influence both children’s and adults’ perceptions of what is tolerable or not, and the actions they take.

“There is a compelling and urgent need for government guidance on keeping children safe in institutions.

“Much is missing from the serious case review, including the alleged sexual abuse found by the local authority and submitted to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse last summer. Only a small number of children were interviewed and parents appear not to have been involved at all. The police went back to 1998 in their investigation, and the Guardian newspaper reported abuse claims going back to at least 2003, yet the serious case review only starts at 2014. Given the very serious and systemic local failure to protect children, Ministers must now revisit their decision to convert Medway secure training centre into their first experimental secure school.”   

The serious case review commenced in July 2017, 18 months after the Panorama programme and a year after management of the secure training centre was transferred from G4S to Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service. Its time-frame was 2014-2017.

The serious case review shows:

Excessive physical restraint and victimisation of especially vulnerable children
The small number of children who were interviewed as part of the review (13 by telephone and 7 face-to-face) reported “excessive” physical restraint; staff deliberately using physical restraint out of sight of CCTV; and some staff more frequently using restraint which deliberately inflicts pain on children. Children who were especially vulnerable were victimised by staff. The serious case review states: “staff had picked on children who appeared vulnerable. This included children who did not speak English or were comparatively young or withdrawn or had no extremal family support”.  Barking and Dagenham local authority reported to the serious case review that one of its children detained at Medway secure training centre had been stopped from seeing their social worker alone.

Reporting of crimes against children “stymied”
Before the police investigation set up after the Panorama programme, “the reporting of crimes committed against children at Medway STC can be described as “stymied” in that their progress had been prevented/hindered”. There was a “limited police response to previous allegations from or about children at the STC”.

Children regularly taken to A&E
90 children were taken to A&E from Medway secure training centre during the three-year period under review (the review does not state whether this was as a result of injuries from restraint or self-harm, or other reasons). A&E staff did not contact children’s next of kin or social workers in respect of children in care; this was left to custody officers to do.

“Erratic and ineffective” local authority oversight of child protection, with “serious and undetected deficiencies”
The local authority designated officer (LADO) function – responsible for monitoring and overseeing investigations of staff working with children – was “erratic and ineffective”. Referrals were not passed to the local authority’s child protection social workers to investigate; instead LADO staff carried out investigations themselves.

The focus “appeared to be proving if the allegation could be substantiated or not, rather than understanding the behaviour of the adult as possibly harmful, criminal or suitable and managing the potential risk of that behaviour towards children reoccurring and causing harm”.

This arrangement – known as the ‘Medway way’ – led to “few [child protection] strategy discussions, interviews with children were not undertaken by those professionals who best knew the child from their home authorities, management oversight and supervision were poor, policies were not followed, regular liaison meetings were not held and responses were slow and did not provide sufficient challenge to the staff and management at Medway STC. There was no operational practice guidance on the management of allegations in the procedures and the approach to the line management of the LADO who may have a specific expertise unfamiliar to most other staff including the line manager appears to have contributed to some serious and undetected deficiencies… It was not until 2016 that these began to be detected”.

Local Safeguarding Children Board did not act on Ofsted concerns from 2014 and 2015 and failed to challenge inadequate arrangements for protecting children in Medway secure training centre
Ofsted recommendations in respect of child safeguarding monitoring and oversight, in 2014 and 2015, “were not apparently followed up in a timely manner and the Medway Safeguarding Children Board did not challenge the quality of the LADO annual reports or other performance information it received”.  The “lack of proper analysis of allegations being presented to the [Medway Safeguarding Children Board] was a missed opportunity for challenge”.

Barnardo’s told it couldn’t refer child protection concerns to the local authority
Against requirements in government safeguarding children guidance, a contract between the Youth Justice Board and children’s charity Barnardo’s “expressly did not allow” independent advocates to refer concerns about child protection directly to the local authority. This was only rectified in July 2017 – 18 months after the Panorama programme. When Barnardo’s advocates supported children to make complaints about “how staff acted during restraints”, there was no requirement on G4S to inform the charity of the outcome of these complaints. Barnardo’s advocates were contracted to be in the centre 17 hours a week, yet they were not given a private office in which to meet children.

Barnardo’s advocates no longer see every child after they have been restrained
The year after the Panorama programme, the crucial safeguard of advocates meeting children after each restraint incident, to offer them help, was removed. This protection was first established following a coroner’s recommendation after 15 year-old Gareth Myatt died of positional asphyxia following restraint by three G4S officers in a different secure training centre. Since July 2017, advocates working in Medway secure training centre have not been required to be “physically present to offer advocacy” if a child has been previously restrained.

No recommendations for G4S
The individual management review undertaken specifically in respect of G4S identified not a single recommendation for the security company, which ran the centre between 1998 and 2016, and continues to run two other child prisons – Oakhill secure training centre in Milton Keynes and Parc young offender institution in Bridgend, Wales.

The serious case review makes a general recommendation “that G4S should consider the learning from their own IMR process and the overall learning in this SCR and consider implementation in its other service provision in the secure estate”.

G4S failed to hand over all of its staff records
When the prison service took over the running of Medway secure training centre, G4S failed to hand over “some locally stored staff records” and “local supervision records”. Although not mentioned in the serious case review, this echoes G4S’s failures to hand over information requested by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse last summer.

Youth Justice Board focused on contracts not children
Youth Justice Board monitors focused on contract compliance “as opposed to the safety and welfare of children” and “before December 2015, both internal monitoring and external reports on Medway STC had not signaled concerns about the treatment of children by staff”.

There are very significant omissions in the published serious case review:

  • There is no chronology showing when concerns were raised, and by whom; and the nature of concerns.
  • There is no overview of the children detained in Medway STC during the three-year time frame – their ages and other demographic information, a profile of their needs, and so on.
  • There is no data on child protection referrals, complaints, disciplinary action, restraint injuries and other serious incidents during the three-year time frame.
  • It lacks a full description of what was shown in the Panorama programme which led to the serious case review being commissioned, and the STC moving from G4S management.
  • We are not told what action the local authority and other agencies took immediately in response to the Panorama programme to safeguard and promote the welfare of the children who were shown on the programme being abused.
  • The review states there were no criminal convictions of G4S staff following the Panorama programme, but we are not told whether there was any disciplinary action taken by G4S, the local authority, the Youth Justice Board or any other agencies.
  • None of the evidence before the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse last summer – including the very serious concerns reported by the social worker appointed by the local authority to, among other things, review the full Panorama footage – is mentioned in the serious case review, let alone considered. This is a very serious omission.

About serious case reviews
Serious case reviews are set up when a child has died or “has been seriously harmed and there is cause for concern as to the way in which the authority, their Board partners or other relevant persons have worked together to safeguard the child”.

Statutory guidance on serious case reviews for the time period stated: “when things go wrong Serious Case Reviews (SCRs) are published and transparent about any mistakes which were made so that lessons can be learnt” (Working Together to Safeguard Children, 2015).

Article 39 and The Care Leavers’ Association join forces to defend child protection rights in the Supreme Court

13 July 2018
Article 39 and The Care Leavers’ Association have been granted permission to intervene in a case (CN v Poole), which will be heard in the Supreme Court on 16/17 July.

We jointly applied to intervene because we are extremely concerned about justice being denied to the children, young people and adults we serve. We believe the wrong decision in this case could prevent those who have experienced abuse in care and custodial settings from being able to seek legal redress and compensation.

In December 2017 the Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal made on behalf of two individuals who, as young children, were subject to serious harassment and abuse from a family that lived close to their home.

The children were cared for by their mother. Their accommodation had been arranged by Poole housing authority, which was aware of their neighbours’ persistent anti-social behaviour.

CN has severe physical and learning difficulties. When he was aged 9, he tried to take his own life because of the serious abuse he suffered from the nearby family.

The Court of Appeal rejected arguments that Poole Borough Council should have used its Children Act 1989 powers to protect the young brothers from harm, perhaps even by temporarily moving them from their mother’s care.

But the court went much further. It decided that local authorities can no longer be held liable for negligence when a child has suffered harm due to their failure to act. Such claims had been possible since 2003.

Article 39 has longstanding concerns about the difficulties children in institutional settings face in reporting abuse, being believed and receiving care and support to help them recover from mistreatment.

We asked all English local authorities to provide us with information about allegations against staff working in institutional settings. Of those that provided detailed data – 34 councils – we found that only 24% of 1,389 allegations resulted in an official child protection investigation.[i]

When councils undertake child protection investigations they are under a duty to listen to the child. They must consider taking action to safeguard or promote the child’s welfare. A child who has been abused or suffered some other trauma may need counselling, extra help with their education and/or changes within their living environment and daily care. If councils fail to act to protect a child from institutional abuse, this can have devastating and long-lasting consequences.

The Care Leavers Association has numerous first-hand accounts from adult care leavers of abuse they have experienced as children in the care system. Over recent decades there have been many enquiries focusing on such abuse of looked after children. Such abuse – whether physical, sexual, emotional or through neglect – can have severe effects on a person, both at the time and throughout their later adult life.

If the Court of Appeal’s decision is upheld by the Supreme Court it could, at its worst, remove the duty of care from local authorities in respect of all child protection functions. This would have a disproportionate effect on looked after children, and on adults who were in care or custody as children. We need to revert to the 2003 position to ensure accountability where professionals and organisations failed to take appropriate action to prevent or stop abuse. Being able to pursue a claim for negligence can achieve a real sense of justice and provide a route to some financial compensation that helps to address the long-term consequences of abuse in childhood.

Carolyne Willow, Article 39’s Director, said:

“We are delighted to have been given permission to intervene in this very significant case. With The Care Leavers’ Association, we want to help the court consider local authorities’ obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and to understand the terrible impact that abuse can have on children, especially when they have tried to seek help but are ignored and left to cope alone with profound psychological pain, isolation and confusion. We appreciate that local authorities are under great financial strain but children’s rights to safety and recovery must be robustly defended.”

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

It is incomprehensible that a local authority would not face the legal consequences for not doing enough to prevent abuse and neglect to young people in care. But the important thing to remember is this is not just about blame, or legal outcomes. It is about the lives of many young people and adults affected by abuse and neglect experienced as children. It is essential that they have legal recourse to challenge the decisions and omissions that facilitated those damaging experiences. We are determined to work with Article 39 and our legal team to right this wrong.”

[i] Undertaken under Section 47 the Children Act 1989. Section 47 requires local authorities who have reasonable cause to suspect that a child in their area is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm, to make enquiries to enable them to decide whether they should take any action to safeguard or promote the child’s welfare. Article 39’s freedom of information request was made in 2015 and local authorities were asked to provide data for the preceding three years.

Article 39 and The Care Leavers’ Association are 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.

PLEASE NOTE: If you have been abused in care or custody, or anywhere else, the criminal law has not changed and your right to bring a claim under the Human Rights Act 1998 is also not affected by this case.