Norman Lamb MP: I'm calling on the Department for Education to urgently issue guidance on the use of restrictive intervention of children and young people
Former Health minister, Lib Dem MP Norman Lamb writes about a House of Commons debate relating to Restrictive Intervention of Children and Young People.
Every day, some of our most vulnerable children are having their human rights breached. In some residential special schools, children with learning difficulties or autism experience regular restrictive interventions. A child might be physically restrained as a means of control, or they might be secluded. But the use of these interventions can leave lasting physical and emotional trauma. It is avoidable in almost all cases, provided the culture is got right and proper training is provided. Many organisations have demonstrated how to avoid the need for the use of restrictive interventions. Yet this is the exception, not the rule and the Government is not taking action to stop this abuse.
Prone restraint – where a child’s face is held down to the floor – is particularly pernicious. It is a hugely damaging experience for children, and tragically has been associated with the deaths of several people. The regular use of face down restraint is not consistent with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. These are clear breaches of children’s human rights. It is an outrage.
Depressingly, the use of restraint is widespread. The Challenging Behaviour Foundation, an excellent organisation which has fought long and hard on this issue, recently conducted a survey into the use of restraint among disabled children. 88% of parents reported that their disabled child had experienced restraint, most frequently in their school. Outrageously, over half of families reported that their child suffered physical injuries along with the emotional impact of the experience. These practices remain endemic in the special school system.
The reason we have to rely on surveys to estimate the usage of restraint is because there is no mandatory reporting practice. Many parents aren’t even told when force is used against their child. This is a remarkable state of affairs.
And on top of this, there is no current guidance on the use of restraint of disabled children in special schools in England. The Government has been promising guidance since 2014, when similar guidance was published for adults. Five years later, there is still nothing. Children have been less well protected than adults for half a decade. The Government has been paralysed by Brexit and as a result it has taken no action to stop the continued human rights breaches which are taking place in our schools on a daily basis.
Clearly, action must be taken urgently. We simply cannot allow this to continue.
That’s why, today, I am leading a debate on how schools and other institutions across the UK are unnecessarily and inappropriately using harmful restrictive interventions on children and young people. With MPs from across the House of Commons, I am calling on the Department for Education to urgently issue guidance on the use of restrictive intervention of children and young people, and, more particularly, on how to avoid such interventions being necessary. Ofsted must also change its guidance to inspectors to recognise the importance of seeking to avoid the use of restraint.
We also need the Government to commit to training all those working with children in residential schools and other institutions in how to avoid using restraint. Restrictive interventions should only ever be used as a last resort. Instead the whole focus should be on positive behaviour. The evidence is clear that when staff are properly trained, restraint very rarely has to be used. But this requires real culture change across the country.
Liberal Democrats will put pressure on the Government to kick-start this change. We demand better for our most vulnerable children. We must act now to put a stop to the abuse which is endemic in our school system.
Norman Lamb is the Liberal Democrat MP for North Norfolk. He is the Chair of the House of Commons' Science and Technology Committee.