New Law Mandates Schools to Report Child Restraint and Isolation Incidents to Parents

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Schools will henceforth be obligated by law to inform parents whenever a child is subjected to restraint or isolation, according to the latest statutory guidance released by the Department of Education. However, the use of these measures is strictly for emergency situations to prevent harm, they must never be utilized as punitive actions.

Bolstering this viewpoint, the Department of Health recently issued similar guidelines, emphasizing that children should never be locked in a room alone or prevented from leaving.

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Over the years, parents in Northern Ireland have passionately campaigned for the enforcement of “Harry’s Law”, a regulation that would make it mandatory for schools to report instances of isolation or restraint of a child. Their efforts have garnered the support of businesswoman and celebrity, Paris Hilton, who shared her own experience of being placed in solitary confinement during her teenage years at a boarding school in the United States.

The Department of Education, in 2021, had provided interim guidance in regard to restraint and isolation. However, it didn’t impose any legal commitment on schools to document instances of child restraint.

The department has now shaped new statutory guidance that schools are legally bound to follow. It clearly articulates that restrictive practices such as restraint and isolation should only be applied when necessary and proportionate, safeguarding children, young people, and others from potential harm.

The updated guidelines define seclusion as the involuntary placement of a child or young person in an environment where they’re alone and prevented from leaving. They stress that seclusion shouldn’t be employed in Northern Ireland’s educational institutions unless in immediate crisis, critical to averting serious physical harm to individuals.

The new directive from the Department of Education cites an example of a child who threatened to kill a teacher with scissors, causing a crisis situation. The child had to be confined in the school foyer until the police arrived.

Restraint, as per the guidelines, can encompass physical or mechanical means preventing a child’s movement or restraining parts of their body. This may involve using devices like belts or cuffs. The Department of Education insists that such forms of restraint should never be employed to control conduct or as a punitive action in Northern Ireland’s educational environments.

The new provisions also legally obligate schools to notify parents or guardians if a child has been secluded or restrained. Each school must also meticulously document each incident. As per the new guidelines, any deviation from them will be unlawful unless there is a compelling reason to do so.

The revised statutory guidance is the result of the collaborative efforts of DE officials, parents, teachers and numerous organisations. It is now open for consultation until the 3rd of November, 2023.