Tag: Child protection

Government publishes 70 targets to bring Feltham child prison to an acceptable level

The Ministry of Justice has today (21 August) published an action plan in response to the grave concerns about children’s safety and care raised by the Chief Inspector of Prisons last month.

On 22 July, Peter Clarke, the Chief Inspector, invoked the Urgent Notification procedure whereby significant concerns about the treatment and conditions within prisons are communicated directly to the Secretary of State for Justice within seven days of an inspection.

The announced inspection of Feltham child prison took place between 4 and 19 July. The Secretary of State for Justice, Robert Buckland, has today released an action plan with 70 dated targets. Deadlines for the targets range from ‘immediate’ to ‘June 2020’.

Among the grave concerns reported by the Chief inspector to the Secretary of State were:

  • 40% of children had felt unsafe at Feltham. Nearly half reported victimisation by other children; and around two-thirds said staff had victimised them.
  • Violence is higher than in any other child prison – including verbal and physical abuse by staff.
  • Self-harm among children was 14 times higher than in 2017, and this was largely attributed to them being locked in cells for long periods of time.
  • Only a quarter of children said their (emergency) cell bell was answered within 5 minutes.
  • Over 900 use of force reports were missing: these are written accounts of restraint used on children, including the use of pain-inducing techniques.
  • Children’s perspectives were not routinely gathered after the use of restraint, so it was impossible for managers to know whether there were any child protection concerns and/or force was used lawfully.
  • The longest period a child had been separated from the ordinary prison regime was 89 days. Inspectors found the treatment and conditions of children in these situations was “very poor”. Many ‘separated’ children spent fewer than two hours out of their cells in each 24-hour period.
  • Windows did not allow adequate ventilation and less than a quarter of children were able to have a shower every day.

After the Urgent Notification was invoked, the Ministry of Justice stopped sending children to Feltham. Today’s letter from the Secretary of State to the Chief Inspector states this arrangement will continue until senior managers consider the prison to be suitable for children.

Carolyne Willow, Article 39’s Director, said:

“The Chief Inspector’s letter last month set out a desperate, intolerable panoply of failures to meet basic levels of care and protection. Many of the 70 actions published by the Ministry of Justice today are rudimentary building blocks for any children’s residential setting, including the appointment of a head of safeguarding, staff training and adequate shower facilities.

“But the biggest problem is: we have been here before. And before that. Feltham has a very long and sad history of severe child suffering. Ministers should have taken the Chief Inspector’s letter as the final confirmation that the institution cannot be saved. Today’s announcement should have been bold and principled, signalling the closure of Feltham and investment in approaches and services known to turn around young lives. This document with its 70 targets is about rescuing a prison which started its life in the 1800s; if it was truly about children, it would be a closure plan.”

Read the 22 July 2019 Urgent Notification here.
Read the Secretary of State’s letter in response here.
Read HM Prison and Probation Service’s action plan here.
More information about the Urgent Notification process is here.

Oasis Charitable Trust to run Medway secure school

Days after another child died in prison, the Ministry of Justice has announced that the Oasis Charitable Trust has been selected to run its first experimental secure school.

Article 39’s Director, Carolyne Willow, said:

“The site chosen for the experimental secure school is a child prison beset by abuse scandals and systemic failures.

“Three years ago, BBC Panorama undercover footage showed serious emotional and physical abuse, with officers using restraint as a cover for mistreatment. In January, a serious case review reported that every local and national agency working in and with Medway secure training centre had failed to safeguard children, with a lack of proper analysis of allegations by the Local Safeguarding Children Board. A previous review found there had been 35 separate whistleblowing communications to the Youth Justice Board over a period of seven years. Ofsted found unlawful use of pain-inducing restraint when it last inspected the prison, and the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse reported in February that there were 44 alleged sexual abuse incidents in the centre between 2012 and 2017. 

“When we and others wrote to the Minister to object on child protection grounds, the only specific reason he gave for choosing the site was that the Government owns the land and building and doesn’t have to go through a protracted planning permission process. The safety and welfare of very vulnerable children should govern decision-making, not the convenience of already owning a prison building. 

“Oasis Charitable Trust appears to lack any experience of looking after children in a residential setting. There are inevitable parallels with G4S and Serco being handed contracts to run secure training centres in the late 1990s without any relevant experience. Secure training centres were similarly marketed as centres of excellence in children’s education and care. Nothing I have seen or heard shows that the Government has properly reflected on why children suffered so badly for so long in those institutions. There has been no explanation either as to why the law has been changed to allow 16-19 academies to become secure children’s homes, when additional investment in the best of existing provision would have been the most obvious and safer path to take.”

Children not safe in St Andrews mental health hospital

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) has placed a mental health hospital for children in special measures.

St Andrew’s Healthcare Adolescent Service in Northamptonshire, which is registered as a charity, has been rated ‘inadequate’ overall and the same for safety, care and leadership following an inspection by the CQC.

Among the many damming findings, inspectors reported:

“On one occasion, staff did not respect a patient’s privacy and dignity when changing her clothing. While female staff were present, there were also male staff there at the time. It was the inspection team’s view that this was uncaring, undignified and disrespectful to the patient.”

Inspectors also found:

  • Between July 2018 and January 2019, there were 1,754 incidents of restraint. In one ward (Meadow), restraint was used 546 times with just 15 children during this period. Inspectors reviewed one incident where “staff had restrained the patient and changed them into rip proof clothing when the patient was presenting as calm and compliant”.
  • Eleven of the 15 ‘seclusion rooms’ did not have furnishings such as a bed, pillow, mattress or blanket.
  • Staff applied blanket restrictions without justification. All wards had imposed set snack times. Other restrictions were placed on access to drinks and takeaways. Children were not allowed to wear shoes on Meadow ward.
  • Staff on Willow ward locked en-suite rooms which meant children had to request staff to unlock them.
  • Staff shortages sometimes resulted in staff cancelling escorted leave, appointments or ward activities. Staff on Fern, Maple and Willow wards said the high use of bank and agency staff impacted on patient care.
  • There were sharp edges on door frames in ‘seclusion rooms’ and ‘extra care suites’, blind spots in ‘seclusion rooms’ and pieces of exposed sharp metal in ‘extra care suites’.
  • Staff did not always check emergency equipment and medicines.

Helen Donohoe, Assistant Director at Article 39, said:

“It is incomprehensible that such systematic abuse of children’s human rights can go on in an institution funded by the NHS. The denial of dignity and privacy and the failure to ensure basic levels of safety reveal a toxic environment that conflicts wholly with the care that children need to thrive and be well.

“It is clear from the CQC report that staff levels and the frequent use of agency staff was a factor in the poor care. This is a recurring issue and one that Article 39 is deeply concerned about.” 

Article 39 will be seeking information about the post-inspection actions taken to ensure the rights, dignity and safety of the children and young people in St Andrew’s Healthcare Adolescent Service. The inspection took place in March-April 2019.

We are especially keen to find out how children and young people are supported by independent advocates and how they are made aware of their rights. A review of 25 records found that nearly a third (7) failed to show that children had been informed of their rights either on admission or at the point of their detention.

Read the full inspection report.

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.


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.