Child locked in bedroom for days as others 'painfully' restrained at children's home

South Gloucestershire Council runs the institute for young offenders who are deemed too vulnerable to be placed elsewhere in custody. Credit: Google Earth

Children have suffered “unlawful, painful” physical restraint and unjustified use of solitary confinement at a secure home near Bristol, a government inspection report has found.

Ofsted has published a damning report giving Vinney Green, in Emersons Green, an inadequate rating following several years of "repeated failures".

Inspectors also said mattresses were taken away from three rooms for "safety" reasons and one child was locked in a room for three days without justification.

South Gloucestershire Council runs the institute for young offenders who are deemed too vulnerable to be placed elsewhere in custody.

Children subjected to 'inappropriate use of physical restraint'

The authority says it accepts there were “practices happening which shouldn’t have been”, saying it has taken immediate steps to address the concerns.

In the report, published on 9 June, inspectors said they had "significant" concerns about children’s care, safety and wellbeing.

“Children have been subjected to the inappropriate use of physical restraint, unjustified use of single separation (where children are locked in an area when they meet the legal criteria of being a significant risk to themselves or others) and physical restraint techniques that have caused them pain", it said.

When the unit was visited over three days from 20 to 22 April, there were 16 children being held in youth custody.

The visit was 12 months after Ofsted took enforcement action relating to previous unlawful physical restraint by staff. The report said any improvements since the previous visit had not been sustained.

Inspectors said they had "significant" concerns about children’s care, safety and wellbeing at the home.

“The unlawful use of physical restraint, single separation and the use of physical restraint techniques that have caused pain have had a detrimental impact on the health and emotional wellbeing of children", inspectors noted.

Ofsted said five children suffered pain out of the 20 recorded incidents where staff used a technique called the “finger and thumb hold” from April 2021 to last March.

'Repeated failures in leadership'

The report said: “Physical restraint of children has also been used unlawfully to bring about children’s compliance with staff requests."

“Single separation is not always used in line with regulations, significantly impacting on children’s rights, care and wellbeing.

“A child subject to an inappropriate compliance restraint, which was a serious breach of regulation, was then placed in single separation for two hours.

“Records show that the criteria for single separation were not met before or during the two-hour period.

"Another incident saw a child locked in their bedroom over a three-day period.

“Records justified this action for the first day due to the serious risk to others, but there is no evidence that the registered manager’s decision to keep the child locked in their bedroom for a further two days was justified. 

“There are repeated failures in leadership at this home over a number of years that has impacted upon children’s rights, care and wellbeing.

“Some of the practices at this home are worrying and this brings into question the culture that is set by the registered manager and senior leaders.

The report also said three children had their mattresses removed for an entire night because of safety reasons but that this was not justified.

'Practices happening which shouldn't have been'

Despite the inadequate rating, inspectors said they observed “warm and nurturing interactions” and found planning for children to move on from the home was effective.

However, the council says it accepts the findings of the report.

“The bottom line is that the inspectors have found that there were practices happening which shouldn’t have been, and that the leadership for the home had not been taking the actions they should have to prevent them from reoccurring", a spokesperson said.

“We take this criticism incredibly seriously because our role first and foremost is to protect the young people who live at Vinney Green, to give them the environment they need to turn their lives around.

“We share Ofsted’s concern that children in our care have been subjected to inappropriate use of physical restraint and unjustified use of single separation, which has led to Ofsted judging the home as inadequate overall.

“Following the inspection, we have already taken a number of immediate steps to improve the situation, including providing additional training and support for staff to make it clear what is and isn’t acceptable in relation to restraint and separation.

“We face challenging situations where we must make split-second decisions, but the guidelines are clear. This does not mean that we cannot use restraints or single separation.

“Young people are with us for good reason and there will be situations when restraint and physical intervention is appropriate and necessary.

“But, we must adopt a different approach to some situations where we may have previously used these techniques."

Bosses at the home say they have taken immediate steps to address the concerns.

The authority said it will be making changes to the building and will also bring in additional expert staff to the home, which it hopes will ensure "rapid improvements" for everyone there.

“While we are not diminishing the areas where we have been very clearly told that we must improve, there is a great deal in the report which staff can be proud of", a spokesperson said.

“Specifically, inspectors said we are doing a ‘good’ job in ensuring children’s education and that learning is supported.

“They saw first-hand the ‘progress children were making in developing new knowledge, skills, and positive behaviours’.

“They also observed ‘caring relationships between staff and young people’ and reported greatly improved education provision since they were with us last.

"They also noted excellent attendance levels and very good behaviour in classes.

“Ofsted revisited Vinney Green this week as part of the re-inspection process and while we expect the formal report from that visit to arrive in around two weeks, inspectors were positive about the work undertaken and the improvements made so far.

"We are currently conducting a formal investigation into the findings from Ofsted in relation to management actions in relation to unlawful restraints and single separation, which will determine the facts.

"While this is underway the registered manager is not on site or overseeing the home. We share Ofsted’s concerns about the culture in the home and have worked closely with Ofsted and Youth Custody Service at all stages since the inspection to put things right.

"This is why, while the investigation is ongoing, we have brought in additional specialist managers from Outstanding-rated children’s homes to work with staff now and to help us address these matters."

Credit: Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporter

  • Listen to ITV News' What You Need To Know Podcast: