RRN responds to BBC Investigation into abuse and Solitary Confinement in Special Schools

The Restraint Reduction Network is concerned by the findings of a BBC investigation into the use of restrictive practices including solitary confinement at a special school in England.

The investigation shared the experiences of 39 children at the Whitefield school between 2014-2017. These included David, Ashley and Abdulahi, who experienced horrendous abuse and neglect in solitary confinement, referred to as ‘calming rooms.’

The experiences described were unacceptable, showing an inability to treat the children with dignity or respect, and to understand or meet the needs of children in distress. The investigation found that instead of being met with care and support, children were confined alone for hours in spaces that included cupboards.

For most children and their families, schools are safe, welcoming places. However, children with additional needs are more likely to experience restraint than others and inappropriate over-reliance on restrictive practices used to maintain ‘good order’ (as per national guidance) can leave children vulnerable to abuse.

Solitary confinement and physical restraint cause distress and trauma, undermine dignity and leave children and young people feeling unsafe when they should be safe and supported. The common use of euphemising language such as ‘calming rooms’ or ‘sensory rooms’ means that the practice of placing children in solitary confinement is often hidden. Solitary confinement has no therapeutic benefit and can result in lifelong trauma.

Last month, the DfE released a report on restraint and seclusion in schools, highlighting several issues facing teachers and schools in making best-interest decisions for the young people in their care. Among the issues identified in the report is that schools continue to be left to procure their own training within an unregulated field and that there are no requirements for statutory recording, reporting and publication of data on use of restrictive practices.  

RRN CEO Ben Higgins said:

“Current guidance for schools is out of date and urgently needs updated to support teachers in their role and protect children from the threat that unacceptable restrictive practices pose to children’s fundamental human rights.

Statutory guidance is needed across the UK, including the devolved nations where progress has been made on recognising the need for stronger protections for children. Guidance must insist that any training including a restrictive component is quality assured and focuses on prevention and de-escalation. If schools adopt a more trauma-informed, less punitive approach, children’s needs are better met, and distress is prevented. It is essential that accountability is built into guidance through mandatory recording and reporting, and that unacceptable practices are investigated thoroughly.

Today’s investigation shows the horrendous trauma being inflicted on children by failing to address the overuse of restraint and seclusion in schools. No distressed child should be placed in solitary confinement to maintain ‘good order’ instead of receiving compassion and support.

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