Article 39 registered with the Charity Commission in March 2016 and gained our first funding in July that year. Here is a summary of our main impact to date.
Informing children of their rights
We held consultation sessions with 48 children and young people (aged 10 to 20 years) with experience of living in children’s homes, custody, residential schools and mental health inpatient units about the development of our pioneering online resource – rights4children.
rights4children is the first website to inform children living in a variety of institutions of their rights, and how they can access help to defend those rights.
Research and monitoring institutional child abuse
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.
We used the data we collected through freedom of information (FOI) requests to local authorities to produce a detailed submission to the government’s review of statutory safeguarding guidance, and made the case for distinct guidance on responding to institutional abuse allegations. Our FOI research findings also contributed to our advocacy work around safeguarding children from unlawful and inappropriate restraint in mental health inpatient units – see below.
Protecting children from unlawful and/or inappropriate use of force in mental health units
With YoungMinds and others, we worked closely on Seni’s Law – a Private Members’ Bill drafted in memory of Olaseni Lewis who died following restraint in a London mental health hospital in 2010.
Working with other charities, we proposed several key amendments to the Bill, and were pleased that two of them were accepted by MPs: staff are trained on the impact of restraint on a child’s development; and parents to be notified of the use of restraint on children. Both provisions were drafted in such a way as to protect adult patients too. In addition, the Bill now requires a description of the outcome of the use of force to be recorded. This comes close to Article 39’s call for the perspective of patients to be recorded following each use of force (which we will continue to pursue as the Bill makes its way through Parliament).
Protecting rights through independent advocacy
We launched a national campaign to strengthen children’s independent advocacy, in partnership with the National Children’s Advocacy Consortium and the National Association of Independent Reviewing Officers.
We ran a competition among English Children in Care Councils to come up with a great campaign name. The winning name and strapline was devised by Heather and Megan from Sheffield Children in Care Council.
Less than three months after the campaign launch, we were delighted that Sir Martin Narey and Mark Owers recommended, in their review of foster care, action by the government, the Children’s Commissioner for England and others to ensure children know their rights to advocacy and how to access an advocate. While this doesn’t go far enough in ensuring the availability, quality and effectiveness of independent advocacy services, it is an excellent boost to our campaign.
We ended the year with 40+ organisations supporting our campaign; planning underway for a Parliamentary roundtable on children’s independent advocacy; and ideas for building the capacity and impact of children’s advocates.
Defending rights of children detained in secure children’s homes
After learning that GEOAmey escort custody officers would be trained and authorised to use pain-inducing restraint on children detained in secure children’s homes, we obtained a pro bono legal opinion on whether the policy could be favourably challenged through judicial review. Pain-inducing restraint is prohibited within secure children’s homes.
We elicited considerable public support for a legal challenge – raising around £9,000 through crowdfunding – and wrote to the Ministry of Justice setting out our concerns and the legal changes we wish to see. In response, the government said it would review its policy.
We ended the year awaiting the outcome of the government review. Many organisations, including the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Children’s Commissioner for Wales, submitted evidence to the review alongside Article 39.
Defending children’s social care rights
Article 39 was the first organisation to identify and publicly challenge recommendations in the Narey and Owers foster care review which threaten to weaken children’s legal protections. We outlined the dangers to children’s rights in the professional press and submitted a detailed letter of concern to the Children’s Minister with 43 co-signatories.
Defending children’s social care rights
We led opposition to the break up and removal of children’s social care rights, which would have occurred had Parliament passed the ‘exemption clauses’ in the Children and Social Work Act 2017. We established the Together for Children campaign group and website, which was supported by 53 organisations and more than 160 experts, including many parents and carers of disabled children. A 38 Degrees petition created by our Director attracted over 108,000 signatures. After tireless lobbying by Article 39 and others in March 2017, in an unprecedented move, the Education Secretary Justine Greening MP added her name to opposition amendments tabled to delete the clauses. The amendment was duly passed, and the eight clauses were removed.
Disclosure of medical emergencies during restraint
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, the Government announced it would consider routinely releasing such information. This happened in January 2017, when the latest annual statistics on restraint were published and contained data on restraint resulting in medical emergencies. This strengthens accountability and should improve child protection in the longer-term.
Challenging institutional child abuse
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. Article 39’s Director was the only professional in a non-statutory role to be interviewed by the Medway Independent Improvement Board, established by the Justice Secretary following the serious abuse revelations. After 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.
Safety of restraint techniques
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.
Children’s rights monitoring
We welcomed recommendations to the UK Government from the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child concerning children in institutional settings, several of which we directly lobbied for in the evidence we submitted. The UN Committee’s recommendations on the use of physical restraint build on those made by the Joint Committee on Human Rights last year, to which we also submitted evidence.