THE regular restraint of Scottish children as young at eight in care homes – which can lead to injuries from carpet burns to broken bones as well as psychological trauma such as flashbacks to child abuse – should be abolished in favour of more humane alternatives, it has been claimed.

Young people and campaigners told the Sunday National about agreed restraint “safe holds” that saw them pinned to the ground by up to four adults. In one incident, a young women who left the residential unit in an attempt to calm down was followed and found herself forced to the ground on the street while people walked past.

In one harrowing case, which saw the worker deemed no longer fit to practice, a young man in a children’s home was put in a headlock, his hand grabbed and repeatedly used to punch himself in the face.

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Despite Scottish Government and local authority guidance that insists restraint must only be used in residential care settings as a last resort to protect the young person from danger, charity Who Cares Scotland claims young people told them it was routinely used as a way of managing difficult behaviour.

Though local authorities have different agreed methods of restraint, most involve the young people being “brought down” with a rugby tackle type move, often with four members of staff then taking hold of limbs. Injuries are often caused when young people – who may have experienced abuse and early childhood trauma – fight to free themselves.

The Scottish Government’s Holding Safely guidance itself, published in 2005 and updated in 2013, recognises that restraint can sometimes become assault. Numerous reports, some dating back decades, have highlighted concerns.

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The use of restraint and seclusion in Scottish schools – directed at young people with additional needs – was condemned by Scotland’s children and young people’s commissioner Bruce Adamson last December. Campaigners said some positive changes have been noted since.

However, as the Scottish Government takes steps towards banning smacking, through the Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill, Who Cares Scotland said there must also be “an ambition” to ban restraint to ensure equal treatment for young people and children in care.

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Cheryl-Ann Cruickshank, director of operations for Who Cares Scotland, said that through providing independent advocacy for children and young people in care for 30 out of 32 local authorities, it was aware of routine misuse of restraint. Some had reported injuries or made complaints, others had begun to regard it as unwanted but “normal”.

She added: “The ultimate goal must be to abolish restraint on children, placing greater emphasis on providing safe, loving environments which help children heal from past trauma.

“Out of 40 members of our care collective – aged 14-50 – none of them thought there was a place for restraint in the care system. Children who are acting out are showing distress. It is being used to manage behaviour rather than to protect them from immediate danger.”

“We have many examples of when restraint has been used inappropriately to manage behaviour or used with excessive force resulting in significant physical and psychological harm, yet children are often either not aware that they can make a complaint, how to complain or are not confident that they will be believed or anything will happen as a result of their complaint.”

She said the injuries they were made aware of were sometimes significant. “They can be carpet burns, or broken bones and the psychological impact can be lifelong. We all have a fight or flight instinct. If someone put their hands on you it is very likely to exacerbate the situation.”

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Sometimes struggling children have been in turn accused to assaulting staff, resulting in police involvement. Yet Cruickshank said it was only in adulthood that many were able to reflect on the impact of restraint.

Amy Beth Miah, who gave evidence to MSPs on the Equal Protection Bill last week, also told the Sunday National: “I never knew what restraint was until the time I found myself pinned to the ground with four adults on top of me. I was 11-years-old. One of the adults was a former army sergeant and the other was a nightclub bouncer, who worked part-time in the children’s home. I don’t think I had done anything that would warrant that kind of response.

“I slowly got used to the idea that if I misbehaved even slightly that I’d be pinned to the ground by a group of adults. It became a part of growing up and seemed like part of the parenting strategy of the adults around me.”

She said the practice caused both physical and emotional injury, and others told her its had a lifelong impact. “The practice of restraining young people to get them to comply has no place in modern Scotland,” she added. “Being restrained didn’t change my behaviour and didn’t send me the message that those around me loved me. All young people deserve to grow up with love.”

Beth Morrison, who launched a campaign against the use of restraint in schools eight years ago after her then 12-year-old disabled son came home from his school in Dundee with bruises, backed the call for action, although she claimed it could not be achieved overnight.

“It’s barbaric,” she said. “We are re-traumatising children by using physical restraint. It’s being used as a method of control and that’s wrong. If we need to change the rules then let’s do that.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said:“We are committed to safeguarding the safety and wellbeing of Scotland’s children and young people. Physical intervention should only ever be used as a last resort and when in the best interests of the child and never used for disciplinary purposes.”