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Experts call for change in regulations to prevent abuse towards vulnerable children in residential settings

Experts have called for a more joined-up approach towards the care of disabled children in care homes so that harm previously suffered by this vulnerable group is not repeated.

Posted on 21 April 2023

Joint inspections should be carried out by health and education watchdogs to asses care homes, and urgent training must be carried out regarding the use of physical restraints in these residencies, says the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel.

The Panel has made nine recommendations to inspectorates, Government departments, and NHS England in its phase two report published on Thursday, covering the abuse suffered by these vulnerable children in care homes.

There are approximately 1,700 children with complex needs and disabilities currently residing in residential settings in England. A previous review by the Panel in October discovered an abusive and harmful culture, with evidence of violence, neglect, physical and emotional abuse, and sexual harm.

The review focused on three children’s homes: Wilsic Hall; Fullerton House; and Wheatley House. The review found that a vulnerable group of 108 children and young adults had experienced systemic abuse and neglect at these residential settings over a period of more than three years, and that safety measures that should have protected them proved to be ineffective.

Dame Christine Lenehan, director of the Council for Disabled Children, warned that previous failings could be repeated if commitments are not made to addressing the Panel’s recommendations.

The Panel has called for substantive action to take place including addressing concerns about training, workforce standards, high turnover, and reliance on agency staff. It has also recommended more joined-up care for children with disabilities and complex health needs across education, health and social care. Measures to support regular contact between the children and their parents should also be implemented, such as developing services in communities so that children with complex needs and disabilities do not need to be sent to residential settings far from their families.

The Panel has stated that it expects the Government to respond to their report within six months.

Leigh Day specialist abuse claims solicitor Catriona Rubens represents vulnerable children who have suffered abuse, including brothers Samuel and Jacob Montague with severe autism who suffered the use of physical restraints at a special school.

Catriona Rubens said:

“Dame Lenehan's report is an urgent warning to government that autistic children and children with special educational needs are being failed in a system that prioritises institutionalisaiton over meeting pupils' individual needs. The use of restraint can cause serious harm, and we cannot rely on ad hoc Ofsted inspections every few years to protect vulnerable children.

“As Dame Lenehan highlights, placing children with special educational needs in residential schools far from home and without a proper system of scrutiny will only increase the risk of neglect and abuse. In addition to overhauling the inspection system, the government needs to prioritise developing community services and local provision to meet disabled children's needs close to their families.”

Cat Rubens
Abuse claims Human rights

Catriona Rubens

Catriona Rubens is a senior associate solicitor in the abuse team.

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