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Call for action after damning report into hospital detention of children with learning disabilities

Parlimentary inquiry says human rights are being abused and voice of families silenced

Detention young people learning disabilities autism
'We are failing to protect some of the most vulnerable young people' - report

Published by Professional Social Work magazine - 4 November, 2019

The human rights of young people with learning disabilities and autism detained in mental health hospitals are being breached and regulation of the system is “not working”.

The warning comes in a damning parliamentary report in wake of horrifying abuse scandals exposed by the media at specialist hospitals such as Winterbourne View in 2011 and Whorlton Hall this year.

The hard-hitting report describes inappropriate use of physical restraint and solitary confinement, a lack of community provision, children being placed far from families and the voice of parents silenced.

Published by the House of Commons and House of Lords’ joint committee on human rights, it calls for urgent reform and the creation of a new unit in the Prime Minister’s office to lead it.

“Most people would say we should take extra care to support young people and those who are disabled," says the report based on an inquiry launched in January.

“But the brutal truth is that we are failing to protect some of the most vulnerable young people – those with learning disabilities and/or autism.

“And indeed, we are inflicting terrible suffering on those detained in mental health hospitals and causing anguish to their distraught families.”

The committee added: “We consider that the human rights of many of those with a learning disability and/or autism are being breached in mental health hospitals.”

It said detention of young people without “individualised, therapeutic treatment” could violate article 5 of the Human Rights Act which safeguards liberty and security.

Members found a lack of community-based provision meant some young people with learning disabilities were detained even when families, professionals and commissioners agreed it was not in appropriate.

Describing the “grim picture” heard by the inquiry, the report added: “We have lost confidence that the system is doing what it says it is doing and the regulator’s method of checking is not working.”

Responding to the inquiry, BASW called for more investment in social work skills to support families to help prevent the need for institutional care and to promote independence.

“Social workers have a vital role in reviewing and facilitating moves out of institutions, finding and advocating alternatives to institutional care and promoting community living," the association said.

“They connect people to services, make proactive plans with people to ensure they are safe and able to thrive and they are intrinsic to supporting families and carers.

“More investment is urgently needed in these specialist social work skills and services to work with and alongside people and their carers to prevent crises, reducing the use of institutions, maximising people’s potential for independence and self-determination and ensuring people have the chance to live the lives they want and are entitled to.”

Reforms proposed by the parlimentary committee include:

  • Introducing a legal duty on local authorities and Clinical Commissioning Groups to ensure availability of community-based services
  • Reform inspections by regulator the Care Quality Commission to include unannounced visits during the weekend and evenings
  • Recognising families of those with learning disabilities and/or autism as “human rights defenders”
  • Introducing a stronger legal entitlement to support
  • A narrowing of the criteria for detention under the Mental Health Act
  • Informing family whenever their child is restrained or kept in solitary confinement
  • End placements far from home and provide financial support for families to visit loved ones

This article is published by Professional Social work magazine which provides a platform for a range of perspectives across the social work sector. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the British Association of Social Workers