Article 39 registered with the Charity Commission in March 2016 and gained our first funding in July that year.
Here are some achievements we are most proud of to date.
1. In November 2020, we secured a significant Court of Appeal ruling which found the Education Secretary had acted unlawfully in failing to consult the Children’s Commissioner or any other children’s rights organisation before he removed and diluted 65 safeguards for children in care. The Department for Education had claimed this drastic reduction in children’s legal protections was necessary because of COVID-19 and characterised the safeguards as minor, administrative burdens. This characterisation was rejected by both the High Court and the Court of Appeal.
2. Our rights4children website, launched in June 2018, gives children and young people accessible and up-to-date information about their legal and human rights. We consulted 48 children and young people with experience of living in children’s homes, residential schools, prisons and mental health units about both the content and design of the site. Last year (2020/21), the website was used more than 35,000 times.
3. We set up and co-ordinated the ‘Together for Children’ campaign against the exemption clauses in the Children and Social Work Bill in 2016/17. Had Parliament approved these clauses, local councils would have been able to apply to central government to opt-out of their legal duties in children’s social care for up to six years. Over 50 organisations and 120+ social work experts were part of the campaign. More than 108,000 members of the public signed our petition to oppose the clauses. The campaign was a complete success: the clauses were removed from the Bill in March 2017!
4. Following a successful crowd funding appeal, we legally challenged the authorisation of pain-inducing restraint on children during their journeys to and from secure children’s homes. As a result, the Ministry of Justice conducted an internal review of its policy. After we applied for permission for judicial review to the High Court, in October 2018, the Ministry of Justice appointed Charlie Taylor to conduct a full-scale review of pain-inducing restraint in child prisons and during children’s journeys to and from detention. Then, in February 2019, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse concluded that pain-inducing restraint is a form of child abuse and recommended it be legally prohibited (we gave evidence to the inquiry) – see its Recommendation 5 below. In June 2020, Charlie Taylor’s review was published and recommended that pain-inducing restraint techniques be taken out of the core restraint training syllabus – in respect of both child prisons and during children’s journeys to/from custody. The government accepted this recommendation but indicated it would take some time to implement. After further pressure from our lawyers, in August 2020, the Ministry of Justice instructed the companies taking children to/from custodial institutions that they were no longer authorised to use pain-inducing techniques as a form of restraint. Their use is now only permissible in emergency self-defence situations when alternative action is not possible. We were also given a time-frame for when pain-inducing techniques will be removed from the core syllabus in child prisons.
5. The Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Act 2018 received Royal Assent in November 2018. We worked on the legislation with YoungMinds and others throughout its Parliamentary passage. We lobbied for a number of safeguards and were delighted that three of these were included in the legislation:
- The Act requires that staff training includes the impact of restraint on a patient’s development. This means training must specifically include the effects of use of force on children’s development.
- Staff must record the outcome of each use of force. This means that any injuries and/or psychological harm suffered by children (and adults) will be logged. This in turn will improve transparency and accountability and should lead to the withdrawal of techniques which cause harm to children.
- Records about the use of force must indicate whether parents (or others in a patient’s care plan) were notified after each use of force. This is a vital safeguard for vulnerable children who may not tell their parents (or the local authority if they are in care) if they have been restrained.
The legislation came fully into force in December 2021, following publication of statutory guidance. We were thrilled that accounts of restraint and segregation from members of our Expert Group on Mental Health were included in this guidance – we believe this is the first time children’s views and experiences of restraint and segregation in mental health inpatient care have been included in such government guidance.
6. After a legal challenge from Article 39, the Department for Education agreed to withdraw a document which incorrectly described as myths a number of key legal protections for vulnerable children and young people – including children in care and care leavers, children remanded to custody and children who have run away or gone missing from care. Government assurances were also given that children and young people, Article 39 and other organisations would be consulted about any similar future plans to amend the law or statutory guidance. The document was discussed in Parliament on three separate occasions, the latest after it was withdrawn (25 March 2019) – see below:
7. In November 2017, we published the first research review of abuse allegations in different institutional settings, with disaggregated data for children’s homes, secure children’s homes, boarding schools, residential special schools, mental health inpatient units, other hospitals, young offender institutions, secure training centres, immigration removal centres (detention) and police custody. This showed that less than a quarter (24%) of abuse allegations in institutional settings result in a statutory child protection investigation. We found the situation for child prisoners was especially poor. Our advocacy for statutory guidance on keeping children safe in institutional settings was referenced in the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse’s February 2019 report, and the government is now developing dedicated statutory guidance for children’s custodial settings. We published our follow-up report in December 2021.
8. Our Advocates4U national campaign to strengthen children’s independent advocacy – run in partnership with the National Children’s Advocacy Consortium and the National Association of Independent Reviewing Officers – led to a Parliamentary roundtable chaired by the Children’s Commissioner for England and hosted by former Children’s Minister Tim Loughton MP. The Children’s Commissioner subsequently established an Advocacy Working Group, which Article 39 was part of. We pressed for the Commissioner’s recommendations (June 2019) from this work to be implemented, including the revision of national standards for advocates, and were delighted that the Children’s Minister, Vicky Ford MP, announced in March 2020 that the standards and regulations for children and young people’s advocacy services would be revised and put out to consultation during 2020. We established the Children and Young People’s Advocates Network (which now has 320+ members) in 2019, and secured funding to develop legal education for advocates.
9. We forced the disclosure of information on serious injuries and asphyxiation warning signs during the use of physical restraint in child prisons. This was the first time such information was brought into the public domain. As a result of our work, information about restraint injuries and asphyxiation warning signs has been published in the Government’s annual youth justice statistics since January 2017.
10. We gave advice to the BBC Panorama team making a programme about G4S-run Medway secure training centre, ‘Teenage Prison Abuse Exposed’, which was broadcast in January 2016. Our Director was the only professional in a non-statutory role to be interviewed by the Medway Independent Improvement Board, established by the Justice Secretary after the abuse revelations. Following publication of the Board’s report, the Government announced it would be taking control of the centre from G4S. We submitted information about the child prison to the Medway Safeguarding Children Board, and lobbied directly, and through the media, for the Board to launch a serious case review. In February 2017, the Board announced it would be establishing such a review. The serious case review was published in January 2019 (see our analysis here), after which we co-ordinated a joint letter (36 signatories) calling for the Government to cancel its plans to convert the prison into its first experimental secure school.
11. We obtained the independent medical advice given to Ministers on the safety of restraint techniques approved for use with children in custody, children taken by escort to custody and children taken on aircraft for deportation. The Guardian newspaper published the story at the end of 2016 and a question was subsequently asked in Parliament. In response, the Government said it would consider annually publishing the medical risk assessment with other restraint review information.