I hope that 2022 will be the year we end forever the archaic practice of handcuffing children.
The use of restraints is carefully regulated and restricted. The UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission sets out a number of criteria which a person entrusted with the care of a child must consider before using any kind of restraint. These include the best interests of the child and their physical and psychological wellbeing.
In many cases, such as in schools or care homes, if someone caring for a child needs to restrain them, it must be carefully monitored and those in charge must record, report, and review their use of restraint through a series of procedures and safeguards. There is, however, at least one glaring and dangerous omission to this.
Local authorities will often use private service providers when children in their care need to be transported somewhere, be that to or from a school, hospital, court appointment or place of residence. Many of these providers use methods of restraint, including handcuffs, on the children in their care. If a child is “high-risk” – they might have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or a history of self-harm – then they are more likely to be restrained.
It’s an abhorrent practice that has no place in modern day childcare, but it has been allowed to continue for far too long due to a loophole in the safeguarding system. Unlike schools or care homes, transport providers are not required to report when they restrain or use handcuffs on a child. It is likely that many of these instances would fail to reach the government’s criteria for the use of restraint on a child, but the lack of scrutiny means we have no way of knowing just how pervasive the issue might be.
However, a child should never be placed in handcuffs unless every other possible avenue for their safety has been exhausted. It’s degrading, inhumane, and treats vulnerable young people like criminals.
That’s why I'm supporting the “Hope instead of Handcuffs” campaign, which is calling for instances of restraint against looked-after children in private transport to be reported to the proper authorities, as well as an end to the handcuffing, restraining or caging of children, except when there is considerable risk of harm to themselves or others.
It’s extremely concerning that there is currently no obligation for private transport providers to record this appalling practice. This leaves the onus on the child to understand and report what has happened to them. This is entirely unacceptable. We need a system which actively safeguards children and respects their rights.
2021 must be the last year that we allow children to be traumatised by being placed in handcuffs.
Sarah Champion is Labour MP for Rotherham and chair of the House of Commons’ International Development Committee