VULNERABLE Scottish schoolchildren are being physically and mentally harmed by possibly illegal restraint and seclusion practices, a report warns today.
A child with a mental age of three was left “traumatised” and “distraught” after being locked in a school cloakroom, according to Children’s Commissioner Bruce Adamson.
His report also reveals that children suffered bruising and “become so distressed they soil themselves”.
Mr Adamson’s investigation found that many Scottish councils lack clear policies on how restraint and seclusion should be used to deal with difficult youngsters.
And he complained of an Orwellian use of language in some cases, with isolation described as “calming rooms” and restraint called in one case a “positive handling phase”.
His report, “No Safe Place: restraint and seclusion in Scotland’s schools,” was prompted after his office received photographic evidence of “injuries alleged to have been sustained at school” by disabled children.
They had also heard from the parents and children themselves about their experiences in these circumstances, such as pupils being regularly restrained in front of other children.
They also heard of the “terrible loss of dignity for children restrained or placed in seclusion who become so distressed that they soil themselves.”
One secondary school pupil describes his experience of being restrained by referring to the school as “mince” and that there were “bad teachers”.
He said the teachers restraining him had hurt him on the floor, made him feel dizzy and had not allowed him to go to the toilet.
The report said the child wrote to them: “It’s not good to pee on the floor and it was wet on my trousers.”
A parent talks of her five-year-old child, who has a mental age of three, becoming “traumatised” and “distraught” after being locked in a cloakroom at school.
She added that her child was “not sleeping well and screaming in his sleep, very reluctant to go into school.”
A mother told the story of her son, who has epilepsy and learning disabilities.
Beth Morrison said that Calum, who is now an adult, was restrained at age 11 by four staff members at his school.
She said he was restrained, face down, on the floor and urinated while being held, before being put in a “time-out” chair in his wet clothes.
Upon his return home, it was discovered Calum had multiple bruises on his arms and legs, as well as abrasions to his spine.
Additionally, she revealed Calum had widespread petechial haemorrhaging on his upper chest and his lips were blue. “Petechial” refers to pinpoint red marks that are a sign of asphyxia.
The report hits out at the Scottish government for failing to monitor the issues in schools around the country.
Adamson says in the report that the overall picture is so chaotic that until guidelines are put in place, restraint and seclusion should be prevented from happening.
However, he writes that there “may be times when the use of restraint or seclusion is a necessary response, as a measure of last resort to prevent harm to a child or to others.”
The government is asked to provide “clear direction to local authorities in order to ensure consistent policies and mechanisms for recording across the country”.
Euphemisms for rooms that children with additional support needs go to when their behaviour becomes too challenging are also warned about.
These terms such as “quiet rooms”, “calming rooms” and “safe spaces” are areas that children are put into in these circumstances and the councils are told they could be acting illegally.
The report says they are ‘running the risk of significant rights breaches with all the attendant legal and financial consequences’.
Language used to describe these rooms for restraint is also warned that it is too “Orwellian.”
Policies and guidance from local authorities on these issues were found in the report to be nonexistent, as was the case in four councils, or confusing, contradictory and incomplete.
As a result of there being a call for a change in the guidelines, Adamson does not put the blame at the door of the teachers.
He says it is “shameful that teachers are being left to try to manage behaviours without adequate training and support”.
Adamson adds: “There are no standards to identify what we mean by isolation and seclusion, yet what we have heard from young people, their parents and carers how these are used as punishment, without an understanding of needs or care for individuals.
“Clear and consistent policies and procedures are urgently needed, along with clear examples of good practice.”
The Scottish government, local authorities and relevant bodies now have until the end of January to respond to the report.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We are committed to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of all children and young people, with each council responsible for the care, safety and welfare of pupils in school.
“National guidance is clear that physical intervention, physical restraint and supported isolation should only ever be used as a last resort, when in the best interests of the child and never for disciplinary purposes. Every intervention should be carefully monitored and reviewed.
“We will fully consider the report recommendations.”