Scottish Government takes action to keep children In Safe Hands

December 16, 2019 Press Release Jan Savage - Executive Director of Campaigns and External Affairs

Deputy First Minister accepts recommendations of ENABLE Scotland campaign to protect children from restraint and seclusion in Scottish schools.

One of Scotland’s leading charities, together with parents and children, has today welcomed the announcement that the Scottish Government has agreed to develop and issue new, stronger guidance on the use of restraint and seclusion in schools across Scotland.

ENABLE Scotland, which in November 2019 published its In Safe Hands? 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 according to data collected by the Children’s Commissioner for Scotland. 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.

The In Safe Hands? campaign 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.

The charity campaigners are today celebrating alongside the Children’s Commissioner for Scotland, the Equality and Human Rights Commission Scotland and influential parent campaigner and member of ENABLE Scotland, Beth Morrison, who has dedicated her life to campaigning against the use of seclusion and restraint in schools.

Announcing the Scottish Government’s decision, the Deputy First Minister today said:

The unlawful use of physical intervention and seclusion is completely unacceptable, and I want to do everything I can to prevent it from happening. That is why I have agreed to introduce new national human rights-based guidance to ensure that for the rare occasions where it is used, it is used lawfully and ensures that children’s rights are protected.

We will work with key partners, as well as children, young people and their families to develop the new guidance, with a review taking place a year after its introduction to test its effectiveness. I am confident that by taking forward these actions, we will be able to affect the necessary change.

ENABLE Scotland Group CEO Theresa Shearer, 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.

On behalf of each and every one of them, we are today delighted that the Cabinet Secretary has made the right decision to implement new Guidance, embedded in human rights principles.

We are grateful to our friends at the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and of course to our inspirational member Beth Morrison for tirelessly working on this agenda.

There is more to be done to bring the guidance to life and make sure that the right support, regulation and training is in place for staff – but this guidance is a great step forward, and we congratulate the Scottish Government on doing the right thing.


The charity says that following an announcement by the Scottish Government that it will invest £15 million in Additional Support for Learning Assistants, 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.

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.


1. In Safe Hands Campaign Report
2. The Children’s Commissioner’s report on the extent of these issues, No Safe Place, is available here.
3. In September 2019 the First Minister announced £15 million for councils to expand on the 13,636 pupil support assistants already working in Scotland’s classrooms.
4. The Scottish Government announcement can be found here.

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