Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
Children and young people are one of the most vulnerable groups in our society. Wherever they live, wherever they go to school, wherever they spend their free time, they require care and protection. Children and young people with learning difficulties, disabilities and those in care are particularly vulnerable. Yet, as we have heard in this debate today, these are the people most likely to be subjected to restrictive interventions. Sadly, this often results in injury, trauma and other long-lasting consequences.
As we have heard, recent research has highlighted the potential damaging impacts of restrictive intervention. A Challenging Behaviour Foundation survey demonstrates the negative effects it has on children and their families. As we have heard, 88% of respondents said that their disabled child had experienced physical restraint, with 35% reporting that it happened regularly. The truly shocking bit for me, Madam Deputy Speaker, was that 58% of respondents said that the physical restraint had led to injury. In other words, it is doing more harm than good. Research has shown that there is a marked increase in the diagnosis of anxiety in children where restrictive interventions were used, and adverse life experiences during someone’s formative years drastically increase their chances of developing mental health problems.
Concerns about restraint have been raised by the UN, civil society and parents and carers of those affected. Beth Morrison was mentioned earlier. She is a constituent of mine from my city of Dundee. She has campaigned for over five years on this issue, after her son Calum was subjected to harsh restraint. Beth gave evidence at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee and has subsequently worked with the Scottish Government to develop their guidelines on restraint. Today, I would like to thank her personally.
The Scottish Government have taken action to strengthen their guidance on restrictive intervention. They make it clear that the use of physical intervention should only ever be used as a last resort. It should only be considered in the best interests of ensuring the safety of a child, as part of a de-escalation approach, and never for disciplinary purposes.
We all appreciate and understand the hard work and sacrifice of teachers and carers, and the duty of care they have for all those they look after. We know the pressures they are put under every day. We also have no doubt experienced an unruly child in the classroom—I am sure some of us in this room will understand that very well. We have met people who are unable to follow instructions, sometimes through no fault of their own, and we have met those whose fuse is that slight bit shorter than everyone else’s. In most cases, these situations are resolvable, but in others individuals can become a danger to themselves, to other children and to staff. Therefore, at the heart of the Scottish Government’s guidance is a clear framework on how to avoid challenging behaviour arising in the first place, how to de-escalate and avoid restraint, and how physical restraint should be used only if it is necessary and as a last resort. Staff use their knowledge and assessment of a child or young person to predict and plan for situations that can lead to challenging or distressed behaviour. They also seek to provide ongoing support for the individual, paying particular attention to any additional needs.
The guidance sets out the Scottish Government’s clear expectation that every local authority should have a policy on physical intervention, along with a process for how decisions on physical intervention should be made. All decisions to intervene physically are recorded to demonstrate that children’s rights have been taken into account in the reaching of those decisions. The guidance refers specifically to the United Nations convention on the rights of the child. The Scottish Government have committed themselves to incorporating the convention’s principles in domestic law. Their aim is to make Scotland the best place in the world for a child to grow up in, and recognising, respecting and promoting the rights of children is essential to achieving it. The core values in the UK Government’s draft guidance largely mirror those in the Scottish Government’s guidance, and we welcome that. However, the guidance must be published at long last: five years is far too long for anyone to wait, particularly those young children.
As we all know, human decisions have to be made at a particular time, in a particular place and in a particular set of circumstances. However, as I have said, physical restraint must be required only as a last resort, and it is vital that it is proportionate, measured and understood by all participants. As someone who spent time as a child in care, I have witnessed personally what restraining does to young people, and I therefore fully understand how important it is for it to take place only as a last resort. I also have a personal understanding of how difficult it is for those who have to use physical restraint as a last resort to make the right decision. It is imperative that children and young people know their rights, and that the actions of teachers and carers are always guided by the need to protect them.
Ultimately, clear guidance and good policy will lead to better decisions on more occasions. With the appropriate guidance and policy in place, we will hopefully see an end to the troubling stories and statistics that we have heard today and ‘ensure that all young people, children and staff are kept safe.