Learning together lays the foundation for living together: In 2020, Inclusion Europe focuses on the topic of Education. We want to show the benefits of inclusive education for everyone: students, teachers and professors, parents and society as a whole. But we also talk about what still needs to be improved. The “In Safe Hands?” campaign of our member Enable Scotland raises awareness about the excessive use of seclusion and restraint in schools, which can have very damaging effects on children. We asked Jordan McKenna, who works at Enable Scotland, about the campaign:
Why did Enable Scotland launch the campaign? What were its goals?
Enable Scotland fights for the right for all children who have a learning disability in Scotland to be safe, healthy, achieving, nurtured, active, respected, responsible and to be included. We believe that all children have the right to expect that when they go to school for the day, that they are in safe hands.
That was why we ended 2019 by launching In Safe Hands?, a campaign calling on the Scottish Government to issue new guidance and stricter protocols on the use of restraint and seclusion in schools across Scotland.
For many children who have additional support for learning needs, including children who have a learning disability and autism, it can be really difficult to communicate how they are feeling verbally. This sometimes means that they communicate through behaviours and actions. If this is not understood, it can present a really challenging, and distressing, situation for the child, their peers, and their teachers and support staff. Worse, it creates a situation where the rights of a vulnerable child are breached.
One mother told us how from the age of five her son was restrained regularly at school and was kept in a cloakroom by a teacher who held the door closed because he would not put his shoes on.
After hearing some of the distressing stories from the parents of children who have been involved in incidents of restraint and seclusion, we had to campaign alongside our members for an end to unregulated, unsupported and unacceptable use of restraint and seclusion against pupils who have a learning disability in Scotland’s schools.
With the support of parents and children who have been directly impacted by this often barbaric practice, In Safe Hands? calls on the Scottish Government to urgently tackle the issue of restraint and seclusion through better guidance, greater support for teachers, and transparency and improved reporting from schools. We also want to see the nomination of a single agency to lead on confronting this issue, including the need for accurate and timely reporting of incidents.
What were the personal experiences parents and/or students shared with you?
We were spurred on to launch In Safe Hands? by the stories that we had heard from parents of children who had been restrained or secluded from their classmates.
In the period before launching the campaign, we spoke to families who had been involved in such incidents, one parent details how a young girl was regularly subject to seclusion and restraint at school. On one occasion she was locked in a ‘safe space’ for 45 minutes where she soiled herself. The incident only came to light after another pupil wrote about it. The girl, now 17, is at a different school but remains on anxiety medication.
Another parent told how from the age of five her son was restrained regularly at school and was kept in a cloakroom by a teacher who held the door closed because he would not put his shoes on.
These incidents are common. In 2017/18 alone, 2,674 incidents of restraint and seclusion relating to 386 children were recorded by Scotland’s local authorities. However, campaigners say that even this shocking figure does not paint the full scale of the harm caused to children, as almost a third (10) of authorities failed to provide data.
Who supported Enable Scotland during the campaign?
First and foremost we were supported by the families of children who had suffered in incidents of restraint and seclusion, in particular Beth Morrison, the mother of Calum who suffered traumatic injuries through an incident of restraint at Primary School.
Beth had already been campaigning to highlight these incidents in schools and was supportive in working with Enable Scotland to create a campaign that would raise awareness on an international scale.
There was also support from organisations such as Equality and Human Rights Commission, Inclusion Europe, The Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland.
The launch of In Safe Hands? has seen national press coverage including the BBC. Coverage across print, broadcast, online and social media generated an incredible 2.6million opportunities to see the campaign.
What was the outcome of the campaign and how do you want to move forward now?
The campaign is very much in its infancy, although there has already been some big wins for In Safe Hands?.
As previously mentioned, we are calling on the Scottish Government to urgently tackle the issue of restraint and seclusion through better guidance, greater support for teachers, and transparency and improved reporting from schools.
The first big campaign win happened in December, with the Scottish Government’s decision to develop stronger guidance on the use of restraint and seclusion in schools.
We do however, still have a long way to go.