Statement: Commissioner responds to the latest update by Scottish Government on restraint and seclusion

Bruce Adamson, Children and Young People’s Commissioner: 

“We heard today in the Scottish Parliament that according to figures obtained using FOI legislation, as many as 3000 children have been restrained in Scotland in the last year.  Legally, restraint must only be used as a last resort to prevent harm, using the minimum force, for the minimum time necessary. Restraint that does not meet these tests is unlawful and should be treated as a potential child protection or safeguarding concern.

All children deserve protection from all forms of abuse or harm, in all aspects of their lives. Children have the right to feel safe. They have a right to dignity, to bodily integrity, and to be protected from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. 

Three years ago, after the commencement of legal action by my office and the EHRC, the Scottish Government committed to produce national guidance on restraint and seclusion. This followed my office’s investigation in 2018 which revealed that there were serious failings and inconsistencies in policies, practice and data recording and monitoring across Scotland’s schools, with no statutory guidance leaving children unprotected, and staff unsupported.  

Along with other members of the Scottish Government’s working group, I continue to call for the national guidance to be put on a statutory footing as a matter of urgency. It must be based on a consistent legal framework that applies to all situations where children are in the care of the State, including schools, residential and secure care, and mental health provision. We have moved well beyond a position where this can be just an option for future consideration.  

Any use of physical restraint is traumatic and creates a risk of harm for the child and the staff member involved. Children and staff need the protection and clarity that statutory guidance brings. 

Our investigation in schools found that disabled children were more likely to be restrained than their able-bodied peers despite being entitled to additional protections under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), so their care must be especially closely scrutinised.

In the years since we published our investigation, we have seen cross-party parliamentary commitment to put children’s rights into Scots law, the publication of the Webster report into safeguarding and child protection failures in the Scottish Borders, and sadly, many further cases of children being restrained or placed in seclusion in a range of different settings. Guidance in law should not be delayed any longer” 

Children’s rights must be protected in law, by ensuring the passage of the UNCRC Bill, and by making the forthcoming restraint and seclusion guidance statutory.  The Scottish Government must make putting this guidance in law an urgent priority to ensure that children are fully protected from harm.”  

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