Staff express concern about sanctions and restraint of poorly behaved pupils in council care homes
By Bill Heaney
There is major concern amongst staff in West Dunbartonshire Council care homes about their ability to control and correct the young people they look after.
This emerged at a meeting in the Burgh Hall on Wednesday when staff turned up to protest at the prospect of their pay and conditions being cut.
One worker told me: “Our job is becoming more and more difficult by the day.
“Young people are unafraid of sanctions of any kind being taken against them.
“We are worried about the age of criminal responsibility being raised in Scotland because no matter what they do misbehaviour-wise or worse they seldom seem to appear before any court or Children’s Panel.
“They seem just to get off Scot-free.
“When we tell them to behave they laugh in our faces and tell us there is nothing we can do about it.
“That’s not just concerning. It’s actually frightening and by going about things the way they are at the moment in relation to our pay and conditions, the Council do not appear to understand or sympathise with the situation we find ourselves in at the moment.”
Mark McDonald MSP asked Education Minister John Swinney, pictured above, what steps the government is taking to ensure that children with complex needs and medical conditions are appropriately supported in their education.
Mr Swinney replied that they want all children and young people to be able to make the most of their educational opportunities.
Councils have duties under the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004 to identify, provide for and review the additional support needs of all their pupils, “which includes ensuring that appropriate resources are in place to support pupils in their learning.”
This act is supplemented by specific guidance on meeting the healthcare needs of pupils while they are attending school and supporting children who are unable to attend school due to ill health.
Mr McDonald: said the prevalence of children with life-limiting conditions is increasing, and such children are surviving longer, meaning that many schools are now encountering complex medical conditions, which was not previously the case.
Although the new guidance addresses the issue of the liability that falls on individual staff members who support pupils’ healthcare needs, there is a question as to whether it addresses the specific needs of children who require enteral feeding or medication.
Given that the prevalence of children who require tube feeding or medication may increase in the future, he asked if Mr Swinney was willing to explore whether more specific guidance might be required, and would he be willing to meet me to discuss the issue further.
The Deputy First Minister said he was happy to explore the issue further. It concerns a very specialist set of circumstances – “Having visited a number of educational facilities that provide support to young people who require tube feeding, I understand the complexities and challenges that it presents. Obviously, it could present a particularly acute challenge in a mainstream school environment.”
His SNP colleague, Clare Adamson, drew Mr Swinney’s attention to press reports with regard to inappropriate restraint at Clydeview school, which is in her Lanarkshire constituency.
She asked: “Can I have an assurance from the cabinet secretary that concerns about restraint—such as are highlighted by the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland, Bruce Adamson, in the report “No Safe Place: Restraint and Seclusion in Scotland’s Schools”—are being addressed?”
He said they were but that the situation was currently being investigated by the police and he could not comment further on it.
He added: “In general, the Government’s guidance on the use of restraint is crystal clear that it should only ever be used as a last resort after all other interventions have been exhausted and only in circumstances in which the safety of members of staff or of the child concerned would be supported as a consequence of restraint. “However, I stress that it should be used only in the most limited set of circumstances, when all other avenues of positive intervention have been exhausted.”