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Disruptive children locked in padded room

Pembrokeshire Council has 10 days to come up with its answers Photo: ITV Wales News

Ten months after the Welsh Government sent a team into Pembrokeshire to help sort out the failings in its children's services, ministers have given the council ten days to fully face up to its problems. Education Minister Leighton Andrews and Social Services Minister Gwenda Thomas have written to Cllr Jamie Adams, the leader of Pembrokeshire Council, saying that they have 'continuing grave concerns'.

Your predecessor as Leader, Councillor John Davies, assured us ... that the authority was taking seriously the findings of the joint investigation by the Care and Social Services Inspectorate, Wales and Estyn into safeguarding arrangements. He reported that Pembrokeshire County Council has the ‘will and capability to implement the required improvements’ in safeguarding arrangements. We have provided support and challenge to the authority, firstly in the form of the Ministerial Advisory Board whilst the authority drafted its improvement plan and then the Pembrokeshire Ministerial Board (PMB) for the implementation phase. We write to inform you, however, that despite that support, the PMB inform us that progress in improving safeguarding arrangements for children in Pembrokeshire is still worryingly slow. The indications are that senior officers in the authority, do not accept the need to change the authority’s approach to safeguarding. On occasions, chief officers appear either not to know what is happening in the authority’s schools or do know but then fail to disclose It is with great disappointment and growing concern that we continue to receive reports of failings in the education service’s safeguarding arrangements, senior officers’ role in that failing and the authority’s failure as a whole to address the issue.

– Education Minister Leighton Andrews AM and Social Services Minister Gwenda Thomas AM

Some of the greatest concern is about the way that disruptive children are sometimes treated in schools and pupil referral units.

  • On occasions, chief officers have appeared either not to have known what is happening in their schools, or known and failed to disclose it or to take action when needed. Even after the media had printed a story of a teacher tying a primary school child’s hands behind his back, the Director of Education failed to intervene when the school took inappropriate action, and the PMB had to tell him what he should do.
  • The PMB has found instances of ‘time out’ and withdrawal rooms in primary schools where children may have been locked in, yet senior officers claimed to know nothing about these rooms and were slow to act when informed of their existence. Officers still do not share information with elected members to enable them to make informed judgements. Often the elected members must rely on information from the PMB before they are able to act.

It appears that there at least five padded rooms in which children are locked in Pembrokeshire and at least 18 other so-called 'time out' rooms. The ministers say that the use of such rooms could only be appropriate, other than in the most exceptional circumstances, for brief periods and under supervision. Misuse could break the law and the ministers say that the evidence they have seen has been passed to the police.

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