Tag: Children’s rights

Advocacy services for children and young people must be strengthened – Children’s Commissioner

The Children’s Commissioner has today (13 June) published her review of independent advocacy services in England. This shows that 29% of local authorities do not know how advocacy services are provided to children in respect of health complaints – despite them having a legal duty to make such arrangements since 2012. Nine local authorities were unable to say what advocacy arrangements are in place for social care complaints, even though this has been a statutory duty for 30 years.

A survey of managers of advocacy services found majority support (68%) for moving towards ‘one-stop’, local advocacy services – working across services and systems.

Advocacy services provide independent information and help to ensure children and young people are heard and their rights protected. The first service was set up by Leicestershire County Council in 1987. This was for children in care and care leavers. Now local authorities have myriad duties to arrange for independent advocacy for children and young people, including:

  • When they receive (or are entitled to) social care services
  • When they wish to make a complaint about a health service
  • When they are detained in a mental health unit
  • Young people who are homeless
  • Children who run away or go missing.

Independent advocates also visit and help children in young offender institutions and secure training centres, though there is no statutory duty for this. Many children’s homes and mental health hospitals have ‘visiting advocates’ who regularly spend time with children, gaining their trust and being there to help them be heard as individuals or collectively.

The Children’s Commissioner makes 10 recommendations for strengthening and improving children and young people’s advocacy, including a consolidation of the law so that entitlements to advocacy are clear and the revision of national standards (statutory guidance). She urges advocacy providers to publish an ‘independence statement’ which sets out to children and young people how the advocacy service is separate from health, social care and other services. Continuing revelations of human rights abuses in prisons and mental health units underline the importance of advocates being able to act robustly and independently for children.

Article 39’s Director, Carolyne Willow, was a member of the Commissioner’s working group for this review. She said:

“Advocates are vitally important for children and young people living in institutional settings, whether this be children’s homes, mental health units or prisons. They give strength and power to children’s voices and make sure their rights are upheld. For a child who feels alone and unheard, having a person who respects them and takes the time to listen – and makes others listen – can be truly revolutionary.

Advocates are also a lifeline for young people struggling in the community trying to access support and services.

We hope the government, local authorities and advocacy providers will quickly accept and implement the Commissioner’s important recommendations. As we celebrate 30 years of the Convention on the Rights of the Child this year, this report shows how to practically implement the treaty’s obligations. Advocates empower children who are often in extremely powerless situations; they are not an optional extra but a crucial mechanism for making sure all children enjoy their rights.

Article 39’s work with the Children’s Commissioner was instigated by the late John Kemmis, a brilliant champion for children and young people’s rights and advocacy services. We pay tribute to him.

The Commissioner’s report and recommendations can be found here.

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.

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.