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Children and Young People: Restrictive Intervention

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:28 pm on 25th April 2019.

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Photo of Helen Hayes Helen Hayes Labour, Dulwich and West Norwood 4:28 pm, 25th April 2019

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Catherine West. I was very glad to support Norman Lamb in securing this debate, and I pay tribute to him for his commitment to safeguarding the human rights of people with learning disability, autism or both.

It is important that we debate this matter in this place because it affects the most vulnerable people in our society—children and young people, and most especially children and young people who have learning disability, autism or both, and who are often less able to communicate their thoughts and feelings, or to describe and bear witness to what has happened to them. As a consequence, there is an enormous imbalance of power between children and young people, who often cannot speak for themselves, and the adults into whose care they are placed, whether in a school, healthcare or residential setting. That imbalance of power confers a clear and important responsibility on the staff who work with those young people, but also on the Government to ensure a system that is transparent, accountable and properly resourced and equipped to provide the best possible care, education and support.

We are debating serious concerns about the use of restraint and seclusion, and there are gaps in the regulatory and training framework in some settings, particularly education. Before I set those out, I wish to pay tribute to the many dedicated, highly skilled and tireless staff who work in schools, healthcare and residential settings with children and young people who have learning disabilities, autism or both. I pay particular tribute to the fantastic Turney School in my constituency, and to Marilyn Ross and her exceptional team at the Michael Tippett School. Her visionary work in establishing the Michael Tippett College has enabled 19 to 25-year-old students with learning disabilities, autism or both to remain in education.

Recent research by the Challenging Behaviour Foundation and Positive and Active Behaviour Support Scotland found that nearly 90% of parents of children with SEN or behavioural needs, including autism, reported that their child had been physically restrained. Some 35% said that that happened regularly, and more than half those cases involved children aged between five and 10. Only one in eight parents said that restraint was discussed with families in advance, and just 17% said there were discussions after the event to help prevent it from happening again. Some 50% of parents reported the use of medication to manage challenging behaviour; 58% of children or young people were injured; and 91% reported emotional impacts, including PTSD, heightened anxiety and insomnia.

We know that such restraint is not necessary, and with a little education and training in those settings, proven alternative forms of behaviour management can almost eliminate the need for restraint. Guidance and regulation on the use of restraint in healthcare settings is much more stringent than it is for education settings. Ofsted makes clear that it is good practice to record incidents of restraint and inform parents, but there is no requirement on schools to do so. That is problematic, because it is precisely those schools that already model good practice and have the best leadership and governance that will abide by that advice, while those schools with problems will be less likely to do so.

In 2014, the Government promised new guidance on reducing restrictive intervention in schools, but more than five years later that guidance is still to be introduced. That is not acceptable. No parent or carer should have to worry that their loved one will suffer violence, injury or psychological distress as a result of restraint in an education, health or care setting, yet that is the reality for too many families. The gaps in the current legislative and policy framework are glaring, but they are straight- forward to fill, and the delay by the Government who promised new guidance in 2014 is simply inexcusable. New legislation and guidance must be supported by appropriate training and resources. I call on the Government to introduce that new guidance and regulation as soon as possible and to ensure that all staff working with the most vulnerable children in our society are properly equipped and resourced to implement it.