Children detained in Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre are locked up for more than 23 hours per day on arrival at the institution, a joint report by HMI Prisons, the Care Quality Commission and Ofsted has found.
The joint inspection said there was “no rationale” to support the practice of holding new inmates in isolation for 23.5 hours per day for two weeks in order for them to self-isolate in line with COVID-19 guidance.
The report said: “Children are locked in their bedrooms all day and night, only being allowed out for 30 minutes each day. Records from these 14-day periods show that there is no meaningful interaction with children. This is an excessive amount of time for children to be locked in, is tantamount to solitary confinement, and is highly likely to be damaging to their emotional and physical well-being. Staff complete welfare checks on the children throughout the day and night, but for some of these children, there are no personalised plans in place to support staff practice in why children need regular and close observations to help keep them safe.”
“The centre’s standard practice of locking children in their rooms for 14 days is permitted through its exceptional delivery model. However, there is no rationale for locking children into their bedrooms in this way. There are adequate staffing resources available to provide meaningful activities and social contact for children above and beyond the 30 minutes they are allowed out of their bedrooms and within COVID-19 pandemic guidelines. Current practices therefore do not consider the needs of children and have the potential to have a significant impact on children’s welfare and emotional health,” added the report, which recommends ceasing the practice immediately.
Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre provides accommodation for up to 87 children aged 12 to 17 years who are serving a custodial sentence or who are remanded to custody by the courts. There were 43 children resident at the centre in October when the assurance visit was carried out.
The report highlighted the following as serious concerns:
- Almost one in four children (23%) said that they do not feel safe.
- There is failure of leadership to consistently ensure children’s safety and wellbeing and to fully address deficiencies in their care. This is exemplified by the serious concerns raised in this report and by their failure to address the recommendations made at the last inspection in February 2020.
- For some vulnerable children, there are no personalised plans to support the decisions to place children on close observations.
The report also states that the complaints logs indicate a rise in emotional abuse towards children during the COVID-19 pandemic. This mostly relates to reported incidents of staff swearing at children or ‘taking banter too far’. External agencies also note this to be a concern. In contrast to matters raised in complaints by children, relationships between children and custodial care officers (CCO) were observed to be positive. Children said that they feel that the CCOs know them and understand their needs.
Rainsbrook suspended face-to-face visits from family/friends in March in line with government guidance and they re-started in July with safety measures in place. Children said that they feel ‘connected’ to their families despite the COVID-19 pandemic. They understand the reasons for contact restrictions and accept these but said that they miss physical contact with their families at this time. Children welcomed the increased phone credit in the early stages of the pandemic. However, take-up by children for video calls with their families has been low, despite this being made available by the centre. Contact ‘direct into the family home’ was too emotionally difficult for most children.
Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, most eligible children were supported with sustainable accommodation and some form of employment, training or education being arranged for them before their release.
Children received education work packs to complete in their residential units during most of the Covid -19 restrictions as all education classes were suspended. Leaders and managers did not carry out sufficient analysis to measure how many children have successfully engaged in this learning activity and therefore they are unaware what benefit this activity has had for children’s progress and learning. Full education entitlement for all children was only established three weeks prior to the visit. However, children who should now be attending the full-time offer of education were seen by inspectors on house units during the school day. Staff are therefore still not consistently ensuring that children are attending education.
Progress on recommendations made at the last inspection in February 2020 has been negligible and evidences poor leadership. Only one of the 19 recommendations made has been fully addressed. A number of areas in the centre’s action plan are recorded as not yet started or showing little progress. There was no evidence provided by leaders and managers that shows that these recommendations have been addressed. Some of these recommendations required immediate attention in order to improve the care, safety and well-being of children.
The centre has not specifically used any of the flexibilities under the Secure Training Centre (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Rules 2020. The centre’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic was informed by Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) command structure. The centre’s recovery and exceptional delivery model process has been implemented to ensure that it now offers a full core day for children, including education and enabling visits, though as stated earlier in this report, children are not always attending education. Staffing levels during the COVID-19 pandemic have been sufficient to meet children’s needs.
The report recommends that decisive actions are taken to address the recommendations made at the last inspection in February 2020, which include:
− Ensure that the centre is adequately staffed so that children are always properly supervised. Where children are at risk of suicide or serious self-harm, implement a procedure that does not involve direct observation of them through shower vision panels, except as a last resort to ensure that children are safe and well. A multi-agency agreement should specify the circumstances when direct observation should be undertaken as the only method available to keep a child safe.
− Leaders and managers across the centre need to work together more effectively to quickly improve children’s attendance and punctuality in education. Better support and challenge of children who refuse to attend education to maximise their learning time in the education unit are urgently required.
− Leaders, managers and staff should implement effective measures to manage and improve children’s poor and disruptive behaviours in education classrooms.
− Improve the capabilities of frontline staff to consistently and confidently challenge children’s poor behaviours, and to take immediate action when children are victimised by their peers.
− Implement effective measures to reduce levels of violence across the centre to provide children with a safe and supportive environment.
− Encourage and support all children to maintain reasonable standards of cleanliness and tidiness in their bedrooms.
− Improve the governance of the use of force to ensure that any potential safeguarding concerns are promptly identified and pursued.
− Ensure that all staff are aware of and have ready access to restraint-handling plans detailing children’s medical conditions, and fully understand how the use of force may impact on these conditions.
− Ensure that children are escorted to attend all their health appointments in the centre, and that their attendance to collect prescribed medicines is prompt and well supervised.
− Deliver mandatory safeguarding and child protection refresher training within scheduled timeframes to ensure that CCOs have adequate knowledge to support them in their roles.
− Review the reward and incentive scheme to ensure that it is equitable between boys and girls, and consistently applied, and that children can promptly access the rewards that they earn.
− Improve the quality of CCO observation records, including those relating to bullying, self-harm and security information, to ensure that managers have pertinent information to assess and control risks to children.
− All teaching staff should develop the necessary subject matter knowledge and teaching knowledge that enable them to deliver a high quality of education that fully engages children.
− Leaders, managers and staff should focus more on identifying children’s starting points across a wider range of development areas, in addition to English and mathematics, and monitor their progress fully.
− Resettlement case workers should ensure that they do everything possible to secure the details of children’s accommodation and licence conditions from responsible external agencies, well in advance of their release from the centre.
− All CCOs should receive regular recorded supervision and annual performance and development reviews following completion of their probation periods. These measures should actively support and challenge their direct work with children, promoting consistently high standards that increase children’s trust and confidence in them.
− Significantly increase the range of enrichment activities, particularly for girls, and ensure that all children regularly engage in and benefit from them.
− Recruit to fill the vacancies in the education unit with suitably skilled and experienced teachers.
Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre – Assurance Visit