Tag: Child protection

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 threatens legal action to protect vulnerable children

Article 39 has written to the Secretary of State for Education and government lawyers threatening a judicial review if a misleading document about local authority duties towards vulnerable children is not withdrawn.

The document, produced by the Department for Education’s children’s social care innovation programme, claims to expose myths in common understandings of council legal obligations towards vulnerable children. But Article 39, together with other children’s law experts, has identified numerous errors and misrepresentations of the statutory framework for children’s social care.

For example, councils are advised that they can reduce visits to children in long-term foster care to twice a year, yet the law states this is only permissible if the child gives their consent. This ensures young children, and other children unable to understand the implications of relaxing council monitoring of their care, continue to be visited regularly by social workers.

Most of the so-called myth-busting topics concern the protection given to children in care such as the frequency of visits from social workers, who is responsible for planning and supervising children’s care and the support given to foster carers. A series of questions are posed with advice from the Department for Education about the minimum actions they are allowed to take.

Freedom of information requests made by Article 39 have revealed that Ofsted disagreed with the innovation programme’s advice on council duties in respect of providing children and foster carers with their own social workers in the case of long-term placements (where a child has lived with the same family for at least a year).

Ofsted told the innovation programme that “The interpretation of all local authorities to date of the statutory guidance is to have two social workers – one supporting the child and the other the foster carers”, and that to reduce this to one would be “removing a significant safeguard for children in foster care”.

Despite this warning from the children’s social care regulator, the document was published with advice to councils that statutory guidance does not require them to give fostered children and foster carers different social workers.

An earlier draft of the document said it was agreed by Ofsted but this text was diluted to “in consultation with Ofsted” following the clash.

Elsewhere the document states that children who have run away should be offered an interview with someone independent after they return, yet existing statutory guidance is stronger than this because it says this safeguard must be offered.

Statutory guidance states that foster carers must receive at least one unannounced visit at home each year in addition to other visits and support from social workers. Clearly in conflict with this, the ‘myth busting’ document refers to just one visit a year as the minimum.

A joint letter was sent to the Children’s Minister Nadhim Zahawi MP last year, setting out the legal inaccuracies in the document. Fifty charities and social work experts urged the Minister to withdraw parts of the document that conflict with existing legislation and government guidance, because of the serious risks to children.

Labour’s Shadow Children’s Minister Emma Lewell-Buck MP also challenged the Minister in the House of Commons, accusing him of “cutting vulnerable children adrift”.  A further request that the Minister withdraw the document or at least meet with concerned charities was rejected.

Carolyne Willow, Article 39’s Director, said:

“It is not good enough for the Minister to say there have been no changes to the law and statutory guidance while at the same time leaving in circulation a document which indicates otherwise. Council duties towards vulnerable children cannot exist and not exist at the same time.

“We are a small charity and taking legal action is inevitably risky financially but we cannot stand by and leave it to vulnerable children to have to go to court to defend the rights that Parliament and successive governments have given them.”

Copies of emails released by Ofsted show that the myth busting document originated from a meeting of the innovation programme, Ofsted and a small number of local authorities in 2017. That year the Department for Education sought to press through legislation which would have allowed individual councils to opt out of their social care duties towards children and families.

Over 108,000 members of the public signed an online petition opposing what came to be known as the exemption clauses in the Children and Social Work Bill. Peers voted them out of the legislation but a revised set of clauses were inserted when it returned to the House of Commons. These were removed from the Bill in their entirety after the then Education Secretary Justine Greening MP added her name to opposition amendments to delete them, in the face of widespread criticism that the plans undermined the rule of law and child protection.

Article 39 is represented by Oliver Studdert, Partner in Public Law at Simpson Millar, and Steve Broach, barrister at Monckton Chambers.

CHAIR OF YOUTH JUSTICE BOARD TO LEAD REVIEW OF PAIN-INDUCING RESTRAINT ON CHILDREN

In a letter this week to Shadow Children’s Minister Emma Lewell-Buck MP, Justice Minister Edward Argar MP announced that Charlie Taylor has been appointed to lead a review of the authorisation of pain-inducing restraint on children detained in young offender institutions and secure training centres, and during escort to these prisons and secure children’s homes.

The announcement comes days after we lodged our judicial review application with the High Court challenging the Government’s decision to allow escort officers working for the private contractor GEOAmey to inflict pain on children during their journeys to and from secure children’s homes. Staff working within secure children’s homes are prohibited from using such techniques, which Department for Education statutory guidance states can never be proportionate.

Article 39 is also challenging the lack of legal protection for children from being physically restrained simply to follow orders when they are under the control of escort officers, including when they attend hospital appointments or family funerals. The Court of Appeal has declared restraint for good order and discipline within secure training centres a breach of children’s right to protection from inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.

Argar’s letter says the Chair of the Youth Justice Board “will bring excellent knowledge and experience after leading the Government’s comprehensive review of youth justice in 2016, and spending much of his career in various educational and behaviour management roles”.

Article 39’s Director, Carolyne Willow, states:

We are naturally delighted that there is a possibility that pain-inducing restraint of children could be removed from all custodial settings. Deliberately causing children mental and physical suffering has no professional place in education, health and social care environments, and we have consistently argued that children should have the same protection from violence wherever they are placed.

“Charlie Taylor leads an organisation which has historically stood isolated on this issue in not opposing pain-inducing restraint. From the appalling death of 14 year-old Adam Rickwood, who hanged himself after he was inflicted with a sharp blow to the nose – which was then an authorised restraint technique – onwards, the Youth Justice Board has traditionally failed to put its weight behind complete cultural change in custodial institutions. The YJB like many of those working within and around the penal estate have hitherto shown themselves incapable of seeing that children can be looked after without recourse to severe violence as a form of restraint. However, the organisation seems to be changing under Taylor’s leadership. His background in education could prove pivotal during this review since the culture and practice of schools working with children who have similar needs to those who end up in custody is markedly different from prisons. It would be fantastic for Taylor’s review to finally bring an end to the pain-inducing restraint of children.

“We don’t yet know the scope and timeframe of this review. It is over 14 years since Adam left behind a note saying he had asked officers what gave them the right to hit a child in the nose, and they said it was restraint. I have long given up on this being treated with any sense of urgency though, of course, every day that Ministers allow officers to deliberately hurt children is a day too long.”

In 2009, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment recommended the UK stop the use of pain-compliant restraint techniques in child prisons. The same recommendation has been made by the UN Torture Committee, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and the UK’s four Children’s Commissioners. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons, the Association of Directors of Children, the NSPCC and parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights have similarly opposed the use of deliberate pain during the restraint of children.

Article 39 is represented by Dan Squires QC and Tamara Jaber from Matrix Chambers and Mark Scott from Bhatt Murphy Solicitors. Its legal challenge was only made possible through a crowdfunding appeal, which elicited nearly 200 donations.

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.

Child protection arrangements improve at prison, say inspectors

An inspection report published today (9 May) states the London Borough of Hounslow has improved its child protection scrutiny and action in response to abuse allegations from boys in Feltham prison. This has previously been an area of great concern for Article 39.

The report says inspectors “found examples of improvements to safeguarding practice as a direct result of the oversight provided by the local authority” and children who made abuse allegations were “well supported”.

In the six months prior to the inspection, which was undertaken between December and January 2018, 25 child protection referrals had been made to the local authority from the prison. Most of these related to the use of force and inspectors comment that all of them “were appropriate”. The report does not indicate the outcome of these referrals.

Inspectors report there had been 17 uses of pain-inducing restraint in six months. This is where officers deliberately inflict pain on children – a practice condemned by many bodies including the UN Committee Against Torture.

The segregation unit remained a “grim environment”:

Cells [in the segregation unit] were stark and poorly furnished and many were dirty. Communal areas were dirty and shabby. Conditions in the special accommodation cells (stark, unfurnished cells with no beds, toilets or sinks) were particularly grim. Use of these cells had reduced since the last inspection from 14 to four instances, but we were not assured that use was justified on every occasion…

Staff treated boys well and we saw examples of angry boys being dealt with patiently by calm officers. However, the regime was impoverished and remained punitive. Boys had limited access to telephone calls, showers and exercise which mirrored poor regimes in adult segregation units. Boys were not permitted televisions and had little access to education facilities.

Most boys in other parts of the prison were allowed out of their cells just seven hours a day. They could exercise only 30 minutes every morning. Boys were not always able to have a shower or make a telephone call every day.

Of 25 recommendations relating to children’s safety made at the last inspection, early in 2017, 14 (56%) had been achieved, 9 (36%) had not been achieved and 2 (8%) were partially achieved.

Carolyne Willow, Article 39’s Director, said:

“Despite some improvements in child protection scrutiny, the reality remains that boys are incarcerated in conditions utterly unsuitable for children. While reading the report, especially the section on Feltham’s segregation unit, the thought once again came into my mind that these graphic descriptions of the harms inflicted on children will appear one day in an official inquiry report. People will look back in shock and shame that we ever treated children this way.” 

Read the full report here.