Northern Ireland

Assembly to debate restraint and seclusion of vulnerable children

Chairman of the assembly education committee, Chris Lyttle
Chairman of the assembly education committee, Chris Lyttle

THE use of restraint and seclusion on vulnerable children and pupils with special educational needs is to be debated by the assembly.

Members of the cross-party education committee yesterday finalised the wording of a motion calling for urgent change.

It has been drawn up by committee chairman Chris Lyttle of the Alliance Party.

It follows concerns from the British Association of Social Workers Northern Ireland at the lack of standardised guidance from the Department of Education regarding the use of restriction and seclusion with young people who have additional needs.

This coincided with several high profile reports revealing the widespread and largely unmonitored use of both practices in schools across Britain and Northern Ireland.

The committee previously heard that the families of more than 20 primary-age SEN children reported injuries allegedly caused by restraints used in schools.

Many of the children were non-verbal and parents reported physical injuries including bruising, scratches from Velcro and, in one case, multiple abrasions from being dragged.

Following sustained campaigning from charities and parent groups, the UK government introduced a new framework in 2019 aimed at reducing reliance on restriction and seclusion in educational settings, with Scotland and Wales doing similar.

An assembly research paper published last year warned that "Northern Ireland is lagging behind".

Mr Lyttle yesterday said the motion would hopefully be brought to the full assembly "as soon as possible".

Sinn Féin MLA Nicola Brogan said she was hopeful the motion would receive the backing of all parties.

"We all can agree that the evidence we heard from parents of those children that experienced restraint and seclusion was harrowing and change needs to be made," she said.