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Response to ‘No Safe Place: Restraint and Seclusion in Scotland’s Schools’

Kate Sanger, parent and expert by experience, writes her response to the Scottish Children’s Commissioner’s report on restraint and seclusion in Scotland’s schools:

On December 15 2018, Bruce Adamson’s report ‘No Safe Place’ was published. The report was written following dozens of calls to his office from parents, carers of children with disabilities as well as professionals who work with them, who highlighted their concern about the treatment of children with disabilities in schools across Scotland. In particular, they were concerned about the use of restraint and seclusion being used as a form of behaviour management.

Bruce Adamson gave the Scottish Government and the 32 local councils until January 31st to respond and I am keen to see what this response is.

As a mother of a 26 year-old who was routinely restrained and secluded during her school years, I felt the staff supporting her had little or no understanding that behaviour is a form of communication. When my child had to use her behaviour to communicate, she was indeed using her loudest voice to tell the staff something was wrong! I hope that this report will lead to safer schools where children with disabilities can have their voice heard, without having to use their behaviour.

How did the report come about?

On 30th March 2018, Scotland’s Commissioner for Children, Bruce Adamson, announced a formal investigation into restraint and seclusion.

As a Commissioner he has a full range of tools and an expert multi -disciplinary team at his disposal to deliver on this commitment. In particular, he has the formal powers of investigation which are set out in the Commissioner for Children and young people (Scotland) Act 2003 that his office can investigate:

“whether, by what means and to what extent, a service provider has regard to the rights, interests and views of children and young people in making decisions or taking actions that affect those children and young people.”

He decided to make Restraint and Seclusion in Scotland’s schools the first topic for investigation.

What was investigated?

The investigation focused on two main elements:

  1. The existence and adequacy of policies and guidance which reflect the law and obligations of the State under international and human rights instruments. These are essential pre-requisites to accountability and redress.
  2. The extent to which incidents are recorded and reported at local authority level. The recording of incidents of restraint and seclusion is recognised internationally as a critical means of ensuring practice is rights-compliant and appropriately monitored and scrutinized.

What were the findings?

Having met and spoken with families, the Commissioner talks about an inherent imbalance of power between adults and children. He spoke about how many families (my own included), whose children with disabilities have gone through the education system, will have sadly experienced this imbalance of power and have been traumatised by it.

My response

I feel as a parent the Commissioner has listened to the children and their families, although I feel he could have placed a stronger emphasis on the need for training for all staff who are involved with teaching and supporting children with additional support needs.

PAMIS (promoting a more inclusive society) offers support for the Commissioner’s report. However, we would encourage a stronger emphasis on the learning and development offered to staff. This should include supporting staff to develop a deeper knowledge and understanding about relationships, communication, behaviour and trauma.” (Jenny Miller CEO of PAMIS)

The commissioner makes 22 robust recommendations which families, agencies and those who have worked for years’ welcome.

One of these organisations is CALM, a training and consultancy provider in behaviours that challenge and positive behaviour support planning, based in Scotland. They responded by saying:

“CALM have been calling for the Scottish Government action in this area for more than two decades and therefore welcome the publication of this report.”

CALM highlights certain important facts in their response to the report’s recommendations:

“Local authorities should, as a matter of urgency, ensure that no restraint or seclusion takes place in the absence of clear consistent policies and procedures at local authority to govern its use.”

CALM’s response:

“We cannot support this recommendation as despite our consistent advocacy of the necessity for clear policy guidance at both national and local level, the present situation means that in the meantime, and for time going forward a number of local authorities may not have policy guidance or detailed procedures in place. Given such a context, to advocate what is in effect a ban, however temporary, or restraint or seclusion without ensuring that alternative strategies are in place is problematic.”

CALM goes on to highlight why this could lead to problems in the interim period as schools have a duty of care to the child and others. They recommend giving councils a deadline, such as the end of 2019, to have their policies in place, which may be more realistic.

Good Practice
 Dumfries and Galloway Council has a section on a form which must be completed asking “how your actions were in the best interest of the young person.
 Article 3 UNCRC

It will be interesting to see the Scottish government’s response to this report. The Children Commissioner has raised and highlighted failures within our Education System by the very name of the report “No Safe Place”.

It is time for Scotland to listen to its children, families and experts and act to make our schools a safe, caring environment where children with disabilities can have their voice heard, without having to use their behaviour to display their loudest voice!

Kate Sanger (parent and expert by experience)

Co-Creator of

Scottish Carer of the year May 2018