Unlawful, painful physical restraints used at secure children's home

June 13 2022
Unlawful, painful physical restraints used at secure children's home

CHILDREN have suffered “unlawful, painful” physical restraint and "unjustified" use of solitary confinement at a secure home in Emersons Green, government inspectors have found.

Ofsted gave Vinney Green an overall rating of inadequate and criticised leaders for “repeated failures” over several years.

South Gloucestershire Council, which runs the institute for young offenders who are deemed too vulnerable to be placed elsewhere in custody, accepts there were “practices happening which shouldn’t have been” and says it has taken immediate steps to address the concerns.

In a report published on June 9, the inspectors said: “There are significant concerns about children’s care, safety and well-being."

Ofsted's three-day visit in April came a year after the regulator took enforcement action relating to previous unlawful physical restraint by staff. Its latest report said any improvements had not been sustained.

The report said: "This demonstrates failure by the registered manager and leaders.

"The unlawful use of physical restraint, single separation and the use of physical restraint techniques that have caused pain have had a detrimental impact on the health and emotional well-being of children.”

Ofsted said five children suffered pain in 20 recorded incidents where staff used a technique called the “finger and thumb hold” from April 2021 to March this year.

Physical restraint of children has also been used unlawfully to bring about children’s compliance with staff requests,” the report said.

A child subject to an inappropriate compliance restraint, which was a serious breach of regulation, was then placed in single separation for two hours.

Records show that the criteria for single separation were not met before or during the two-hour period.

Another incident saw a child locked in their bedroom over a three-day period.

Records justified this action for the first day due to the serious risk to others, but there is no evidence that the registered manager’s decision to keep the child locked in their bedroom for a further two days was justified. 

There are repeated failures in leadership at this home over a number of years that has impacted upon children’s rights, care and well-being.

Some of the practices at this home are worrying and this brings into question the culture that is set by the registered manager and senior leaders.

Inspectors remain concerned that the registered manager, leaders and staff do not understand the legal criteria for physical restraint and single separation.”

The report did say inspectors had observed “warm and nurturing interactions” and that planning for children to move on from the home was effective.

A council spokesperson said: “The bottom line is that the inspectors have found that there were practices happening which shouldn’t have been, and that the leadership for the home had not been taking the actions they should have to prevent them from reoccurring.

We take this criticism incredibly seriously because our role first and foremost is to protect the young people who live at Vinney Green, to give them the environment they need to turn their lives around.

Following the inspection, we have already taken a number of immediate steps to improve the situation, including providing additional training and support for staff to make it clear what is and isn’t acceptable in relation to restraint and separation.

Young people are with us for good reason and there will be situations when restraint and physical intervention is appropriate and necessary.

But, we must adopt a different approach to some situations where we may have previously used these techniques."

The council said it had brought in extra management expertise, was changing some processes and was also improving the building, aiming for "a very rapid improvement for both the young people in our care and our staff who very clearly want to provide the best support possible for them”.

The spokesperson added: "While we are not diminishing the areas where we have been very clearly told that we must improve, there is a great deal in the report which staff can be proud of.

Specifically, inspectors said we are doing a ‘good’ job in ensuring children’s education and that learning is supported.

They also observed ‘caring relationships between staff and young people’.

They also noted excellent attendance levels and very good behaviour in classes."

The council said Ofsted had revisited Vinney Green in early June as part of the reinspection process.

By Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporting Service