Second council ‘failed to act’ over special school abuse allegations


newslatestA second council has been accused of failing to act after repeated allegations of abuse and neglect of disabled children in one of its special schools.

Last week, Disability News Service (DNS) reported how six families had alleged that their disabled children had been abused in two Wigan schools, and accused school governors, Wigan council, Ofsted and the Department for Education of failing to take action.

Now another group of families have told DNS about allegations of abuse and neglect, this time at a special school in Dundee.

Kingspark is one of the largest special schools in Scotland, with about 175 pupils.

DNS has seen allegations concerning eight current and former disabled pupils of the school, while the families of another four disabled children have come forward to join the group in the last few months.

The allegations date back to 2010, with the latest alleged assault taking place only this week.

Parents say that some of the children were restrained by being strapped into their wheelchairs for staff convenience; others came home with bruises, scratches, friction burns, or broken teeth; one boy was forced to stand outside in the winter as a punishment; one pupil appeared to have been fed inappropriately, which was potentially life-threatening; and staff failed to change pupils’ incontinence pads, leaving their clothes soaked with urine.

One mother has taken 85 separate photographs of injuries to her daughter.

Not a single member of staff appears to have been disciplined over the allegations.

Beth Morrison, whose son Calum was a pupil at Kingspark, heads a group of parents who are fighting for justice, and want to see new legislation to protect their children.

Calum, who has epilepsy, autism and sensory processing difficulties, previously attended a mainstream school.

Shortly after moving to Kingspark in September 2010, he came home twice in five days with bruises all over his body, after being “restrained” by staff.

Calum, who was “a very small” 11-year-old at the time, has not needed to be restrained either before or since. He was removed from the school in May 2013, after his mother saw another small boy being restrained by staff for just “flapping his hands”.

The first time Calum was restrained, by four members of staff in a classroom, he wet himself. A member of staff then stood over him with an egg-timer while he was forced to sit in a “time out chair” in his urine-soaked clothes.

Staff at the school later claimed that Calum had been swearing and “out of control”. His mother said no-one had ever seen Calum act in this way either before or since and that he “does not have the verbal capability to swear”.

She said: “Calum is not an unruly child with behaviour problems, he is a child with severe communication difficulties due to his disability.”

Four days later, Calum was restrained by staff again, this time on the floor of the school gymnasium, after he refused to get off his bicycle.

Over the two incidents, he was left with more than 60 bruises. Evidence from the school suggests that he was being restrained on the floor for about 10 minutes during one of the incidents.

He was put under so much pressure while being restrained the second time that his chest was left covered in petechial haemorrhages, tiny marks caused by burst blood vessels beneath the skin.

Morrison said: “When he came home that second time he smelled strongly of urine. He was hysterical and collapsed in my arms crying.

“His lips were blue and he was extremely pale. He looked exactly the way he does following an epileptic seizure.”

The family doctor referred Calum to hospital, where he was seen by the child protection team.

Although local police were involved, a meeting in November 2010, chaired by a police officer and attended by council officers and the school’s head and deputy head, concluded that the injuries “had occurred as a result of his having been restrained by staff, but there had been no intent on their part to injure” him.

Calum’s parents have been fighting for justice since 2010, but it was only in 2013 that Morrison began to hear from other families whose disabled children had been coming home from Kingspark with unexplained injuries.

Among their complaints are about the use of the school’s “safe space”, a room which contains nothing but a mat on the floor and is allegedly used as a punishment room for pupils.

DNS has so far reported on five other special and mainstream schools where there have been concerns over the use of such spaces, often known as quiet rooms, calm rooms, safe rooms or chill-out rooms.

Another parent, Ann, told DNS how her daughter Lizzie (not her real name) began to come home from 2010 with bruises and even black eyes. All Kingspark would tell Ann is that staff did not know how they had been caused.

Then a member of staff at the school rang one of the parents anonymously to tell her that she had seen a colleague picking Lizzie up by her hair and swinging her around.

Ann was so concerned about the abuse that she took Lizzie out of school earlier this year.

She returned her daughter to Kingspark after several weeks, but this week Lizzie came home from school “in floods of tears” and said a member of staff had hit her.

Ann has previously complained to the council and the school, but she says nothing is ever done. Now she has contacted the police about the latest incident, and has already been interviewed by officers.

Ann has taken Lizzie out of school again, and so faces the risk of being taken to court herself.

She said: “I will take her out of school until something is done. The council know there is no place else I can put my daughter.”

She added: “The council have known about this for years and they have done nothing.”

Another parent, Jacqui, told DNS how the personal care given to her daughter Louise (not her real name) began to deteriorate after several years at Kingspark.

She started returning home from school with bruises and scratches, and on one occasion her mother found dried faeces across her back.

Incontinence pads were left unchanged all day, and Jacqui believes that Louise, who can walk with the aid of a frame, was forced to sit strapped into a wheelchair all day.

Louise began to come home from school coughing – Jacqui believes this was because she was not being fed soft enough food at school – something that never happened at weekends or during holidays.

Jacqui believes that a head-rest and harness the school was using to keep Louise strapped into the wheelchair were causing her breathing difficulties.

Being kept in the same position in the wheelchair all day at school has now led, Jacqui believes, to Louise being diagnosed with osteoporosis.

Jacqui said she tried repeatedly to complain to the school, but staff “just brushed it under the carpet”.

She said: “She is a very calm and happy young lady, she has never had challenging behaviour at all.

“She was happy to go to school, but in the last couple of years suddenly she wasn’t happy and she was having seizures every time she went to school.”

Jacqui removed her daughter from Kingspark in April this year, and Louise has slowly recovered her good humour.

There are now 12 families in the group who are together taking legal action against the council in a bid to secure a proper independent inquiry into their allegations.

Last year, Dundee child care and protection committee (DCCPC) commissioned an investigation into how the families’ concerns had been dealt with, but none of the parents were interviewed, so the reviewer did not see medical reports or photographs of the children’s injuries.

The reviewer concluded that it had not been proved whether the allegations about the staff “actually did take place”, but he produced 12 recommendations for improvements by both the council and the school.

A subsequent action plan published by the council detailed how the school and local agencies would improve policies and procedures at Kingspark, but did not address the allegations themselves.

Meanwhile, a report published two months ago by the schools inspectorate Education Scotland concluded that Kingspark “needs to take positive and prompt action to review how it manages the challenging behaviour of a few children and young people”.

The report adds: “A small but significant number of families have expressed on-going concerns about their children’s health and safety in school.”

A spokesman for Dundee City Council said in a statement: “Following an independent review into Kingspark School commissioned by the DCCPC, progress is already being made on an action plan to take forward key points.

“Updates on the action plan will be reported to the DCCPC and Dundee City Council’s education committee.

“All the key agencies involved in the protection of children and young people are represented on the DCCPC.”

But the spokesman has been unable to explain why the council has failed to take action to halt the abuse over four years.

He has also been unable to explain why no disciplinary action appears to have been taken against any member of Kingspark staff, but said: “We do not discuss individual personnel matters.”

Meanwhile, Morrison had complained to the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner about the way Calum’s case was dealt with by Tayside police.

As a result, commissioner John McNeill concluded that the allegations were “not dealt with to a reasonable standard”. He ordered a fresh investigation into the alleged assaults.

Police Scotland is now re-investigating the allegations concerning Calum, as well as other disabled pupils at Kingspark.

A Police Scotland spokeswoman said: “Police Scotland initiated an investigation into the circumstances surrounding injuries sustained by a pupil at Kingspark School in 2010, following a recommendation from the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner earlier this year.

“In addition, we have reviewed the police response to a number of concerns raised during 2013 and will undertake some further enquiry as a result of our review.”

She said it would be “inappropriate” to comment further.

But Morrison said: “Restraint should be with the minimum of force for the shortest amount of time, but Calum was held for up to 10 minutes on his front [according to a report by the school].”

She added: “If I had caused that level of bruising on my child, I would be held accountable, but the school are not being held accountable. There seems to be a culture; it is institutional abuse, it’s horrible.”

Morrison is planning to petition the Scottish parliament to introduce Calum’s Law, which would see “robust legislation” on the use of restraint and seclusion in schools. She also wants CCTV cameras installed in all classrooms and public areas in special schools.

And she is now beginning to be contacted by parents concerned about abuse of their children in other special schools across Scotland.

She said: “I know the problem is not just confined to Dundee. There are problems elsewhere involving neglect and abuse of disabled children and those with special needs from restraint and the use of ‘time-out rooms’.

“They are effectively using these spaces as punishments when special needs children have behaviours which challenge staff.”

She added: “The problem we have in schools caring for disabled children is that if staff say they used restraint it seems it is automatically deemed ‘lawful’, but the law says it has to be a last resort, with the minimum of force and for the shortest period possible.

“How can anyone say that four staff against one small 11-year-old disabled boy, resulting in the injuries Calum had, was lawful?

“If I had done this to my child, I would be held accountable, so why not them? How is that not criminal?”

7 November 2014