SAFETY and welfare standards at a secure training centre where a teenager died after an unlawful use of force have been rated satisfactory in a report published yesterday.
Staff at Hassockfield STC near Consett, County Durham, still use physical restraint as a “last resort,” the report by Ofsted inspectors acknowledges.
Five youngsters out of 34 being held at Hassockfield were involved in the restraints, with their “challenging” behaviour leading to staff having to use “multiple restraints”.
Unlawful use of physical restraint and the controversial nose distraction technique – a sharp blow to the nose which is supposed to quieten unruly children but has been criticised by campaigners as a form of assault – were blamed by a jury for contributing towards 14-year-old Adam Rickwood’s decision to take his own life in August 2004.
But Ofsted inspectors who staged an unannounced visit to Hassockfield last December, found that new management arrangements had worked well, with some progress made towards recommended changes from a previous inspection in May last year. However, inspectors found that a number of areas of development had only recently been addressed, making it not possible to fully evaluate progress.
Overall, Hassockfield was rated as satisfactory, the same rating it received in May 2010. Despite concern over progress in some areas, aspects of work at the centre were praised by inspectors.
This included a “calm and relaxed” atmosphere at the centre and “good and appropriate relationships between staff and young people”.
The inspectors said: “Written procedural guidance and a centre policy on the use of physical restraint are available. There are clear statements within the guidance that restraint is to be used as a last resort only. All staff who may have to use physical restraint are trained in the techniques and receive regular refresher training.
“Staff members also undertake therapeutic crisis intervention training which provides them with information on using diffusion and diversion techniques. Since the last inspection the numbers of restraints occurring on a monthly basis have risen with the highest totals experienced in August and September 2010.”
The inquest jury was told that staff should not have used physical restraint on Adam for disobeying an instruction. It should only be used to prevent youngsters from harming themselves or others, or to prevent an inmate from escaping.
But a spokesman for campaigning group the Howard League for Penal Reform, whose director Frances Cook, who called for Hassockfield to be closed down following the Rickwood inquest, said: “We do not believe Ofsted inspections are as robust as prison inspections. The use of force on children is endemic in privately-run secure training centres, and we believe excessively so. There are other means of de-escalating situations without resorting to physical restraint.”