Children four times more likely to be restrained face down than adults, MPs told

Children are four times more likely to be restrained face down than adults, an MP has said, amid fears children with special educational needs are having their human rights abused.

Labour MP Steve Reed (Croydon North) said: “It is shocking that children are more likely to be restrained than adults.”

Speaking in the House of Commons during a debate on reducing restrictive intervention of children and young people, Mr Reed said mental health charity Young Minds has found children under the age of 20 are four times more likely to be restrained face down than adults.

MPs heard that children, particularly those with autism or learning difficulties, are sometimes not properly treated in schools, in care or in residential settings, and can end up being physically restrained or secluded.

Mr Reed (pictured) said: “Despite Government attempts to discourage it, the most dangerous form of restraint, face down on the floor, was used against children over 2,500 times in the most recent year for which data is available, yet this is a form of restraint that is not supposed to happen at all.

“Quite clearly the current system is not working.”

He said children are also three times more likely to be tranquillised, and twice as likely as adults to be put in handcuffs or in leg braces.

Mr Reed said: “Although children are less likely than adults to be secluded, it is surely unacceptable that any child with mental ill health is ever locked up all alone in a seclusion room.”

He said there should be a standardised national system for recording the use of restraint to help the Government “fully scrutinise the system to make sure it is supporting, not harming, some of the most vulnerable children in our society”.

Labour MP Helen Hayes (Dulwich and West Norwood) said children, especially those with autism or learning disabilities, were particularly vulnerable as they are less able to express themselves.

She said this created an “imbalance of power” between them and the adults looking after them in schools, care or residential settings.

Liberal Democrat former health minister Norman Lamb (North Norfolk) said there needs to be better safeguarding in place to protect children and that the current system needs to be reformed.

Mr Lamb said: “What a bizarre situation we have where children are now less well protected from abuse than adults. That is surely unacceptable.

“There is no obligation to collect and report data on the use of restraint or seclusion, and parents don’t even have to be told when their child has force used against them.

“The guidance offered by Ofsted is very weak and needs to be absolutely reformed and reinforced.”

Mr Lamb said it is possible to achieve good results without the use of physical restraints.

He said: “If it is possible to avoid it, to use it is an abuse of that child’s human rights. Full stop. There can be no compromise on this. We have to end it.”

Tory MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan (Berwick-upon-Tweed) said children with special educational needs often display “challenging behaviour” as a way of responding to difficult situations.

She said: “I am not a fan of PC language, but what does challenging behaviour actually mean? It means lashing out or perhaps hiding away. It means a child has been put under too much stress.”

Education minister Nadhim Zahawi said there has been “deep concern” in response to media reports about the use of restrictive interventions in mental health hospitals.

He added: “(Health Secretary Matt Hancock) has asked the Care Quality Commission to review and make recommendations about the use of restrictive interventions in settings that provide in-patient and residential care for those who have or might have mental health problems, learning disabilities or autism.

“We’ll be following the progress of this review very closely indeed.”

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