New campaign asks if schoolchildren are in safe hands?
Campaign launched to protect children from restraint and seclusion in Scottish schools
One of Scotland’s leading charities, together with parents and children, has today launched a campaign calling on the Scottish Government to issue new guidance and stricter protocols on the use of restraint and seclusion in schools across Scotland.
ENABLE Scotland, which today published its In Safe Hands? (1) report says that “to our collective shame” the current system puts children at risk of physical and psychological harm and denies them their rights under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
According to the charity, which advocates for people with learning disabilities, children in Scotland are often put at risk due to unregulated, unsupported and unacceptable practices in schools – with limited routes of redress for parents or young people affected.
In 2017/18 alone, 2,674 incidents of restraint and seclusion relating to 386 children were recorded by Scotland’s local authorities. However, campaigners say that even this shocking figure does not paint the full scale of the harm caused to children, as almost a third (10) of authorities failed to provide data. (2)
The In Safe Hands? report details the objectives of the campaign, alongside the cases of parents whose children suffered from seclusion and restraint. In the report they speak candidly about the devastating impact on the mental wellbeing and development of their children.
One parent details how a young girl was regularly subject to seclusion and restraint at school. On one occasion she was locked in a ‘safe space’ for 45 minutes where she soiled herself. The incident only came to light after another pupil wrote about the incident. The girl, now 17, is at a different school but remains on anxiety medication.
Another outlines how from the age of five her son was restrained regularly at school and was kept in a cloakroom by a teacher who held the door closed because he would not put his shoes on.
ENABLE Scotland is calling on members of the public to show their support for the campaign by contacting their local MSPs to call for them to support the campaign’s aims and to share content of the campaign online.
The charity says that following an announcement by the Scottish Government that it will invest £15 million in Additional Support for Learning Assistants (3), this is the perfect opportunity to invest in staff training to ensure that children are not put at risk and that those with identified additional support for learning needs as a result of learning disabilities, autism and/or mental health issues, are supported in class by staff who are trained in supporting positive behaviours.
Theresa Shearer, Group CEO said:
In the 21st century, every child should go to school knowing they are safe from physical and psychological harm. They should feel welcome, listened to and be treated with respect from the moment they enter the school gates. To our collective shame, this is not the case for every child in Scotland.
“With the support of parents and children who have been directly impacted by this often- barbaric practice, we are calling on the Scottish Government to urgently tackle the issue of restraint and seclusion through better guidance, greater support for teachers, and transparency and improved reporting from schools. We also want to see the nomination of a single agency to lead on confronting this issue, including the need for accurate and timely reporting of incidents.
“We believe that, together with the other objectives outlined in the In Safe Hands? report, this will make a significant difference in ensuring that no child goes to school under a cloud of fear.
ENABLE Scotland Director of External Affairs, Jan Savage added:
ENABLE Scotland will always defend and advocate for the right of people with learning disabilities to be equal members of society, and this campaign is an opportunity to ensure every child feels school is a place of learning and development, rather than a place where they are misunderstood and mistreated.
The In Safe Hands? campaign calls on the Scottish Government to address the practice of restraint and seclusion to ensure the school environment is a safe place for all children. Among the measures proposed are:
- Stronger, dedicated guidance on the use of restraint and seclusion in schools
- The rollout of positive support strategies and training in every school, as well as setting a minimum of two trained staff members on site at all times
- A duty of candour to be introduced around the reporting of restraint and seclusion incidents at schools
- A working group identify a single agency to take responsibility for restraint and seclusion in schools
The campaign takes on the work by the Children’s Commissioner to ensure that Scotland complies with the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child, which explicitly bars actions such as restraint and seclusion.
According to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, such use of restraint and seclusion may violate children’s rights, including their right to be free from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, their right to respect for bodily integrity, and their right not to be deprived of their liberty.