Anna’s Blog – The Scandal of Restraint in Special Schools
Last month the Government published the long-awaited guidance on restraining children with disabilities in special schools. I, like the families, carers and charities who have been campaigning for legislation, could not understand why these guidelines were not in place in 2014 when the adult equivalent was published.
Whilst I welcome the publication of guidance for children, I am still concerned that it is just that – guidance. It sets out expectations not statutory duties.
According to parents, children with a learning disability and complex needs have been physically restrained in school as much as 80 times in just three months, leaving them injured and traumatised.
Lucy is one of the parents who have launched the campaign calling on the government to better regulate the use of restraint in schools. She says children with a disability are being “hurt every day”.
Her 12-year-old son has a sensory processing disorder, autism and ADHD. He was restrained repeatedly at a special school in Essex for up to five hours at a time. She told The Independent he came back from school with bruises all over his body after being pinned down. He would hide in the garage because the experience had left him terrified.
“Because of his sensory disorder, touch is Ellis’ biggest trigger,” said Lucy. “So you just don’t touch him. Before he went to that school, he had never had to be restrained in his life.”
The families say a lack of clear guidance has led to some schools using restraint against children with special education needs and disabilities (SEND) – despite there being no risk of serious harm. Not only that, but there is no transparency about the use of restraint. Parents say they were not informed by the schools when their children had been restrained. One mother said the first she knew about what was happening to her son was when he came home wearing someone else’s clothes, his own clothes, soaked in urine in a plastic bag. He had become so distressed while being restrained that he had wet himself. When she rang school for an explanation, no one was available to speak to her.
Becky’s daughter Abi, has foetal alcohol spectrum disorder. She was restrained 81 times during one year at a special school in North Yorkshire. “What worried us was the intensity of the restraints and the fact she was being restrained very often,” said Becky. During one incident, Abi was held by eight members of staff as four more watched.
Richard Chapman, Head teacher, Calthrope Academy in Essex says:
“We’re not dealing with naughty children. We’re dealing with young people who are trying to communicate their needs and its understanding what their behaviour actually means and what it’s saying. So they’re not the problem, often as adults, we’re the problem.”
At Creative Support our highly trained staff recognise that all behaviour is communication. By taking the time to get to know the people we support, working closely with their friends and family and having detailed positive behaviour support plans (PBS) in place, we are able to reduce the need for physical intervention to an absolute minimum.
We support around 120 people with behaviour that challenges. Most behaviour can be managed by providing positive behaviour support or by using de-escalation strategies.
If there is a need for physical intervention, each and every incident is fully documented and reported. It is then assessed by our complex care management team, reviewed through our social care governance process and reported to our Board of Trustees.
Physical intervention should be an absolute last resort used only when someone is in serious danger of causing harm to themselves or others and should be meticulously recorded. It should never be a means of controlling vulnerable children.
As Abi’s mum Becki said: “Schools are using restraint too often. These children are not naughty children. They are children with disabilities. It just seems to be a way of working with children that is just so wrong.”