We need to talk about physical restraint

01 October 2019

Topic: Residential care
Author: Joanne McMeeking

Joanne McMeeking heads up the Improving Care Experiences team at CELCIS. Here she explains why we need to put physical restraint in residential child care under the spotlight. 

three adults having a conversation, looking concerned

Sometimes the most important conversations are the most challenging to engage in. Conversations about the use of physical restraint in residential child care are as challenging and complex as they come, but with so much at stake, the importance of these conversations is fundamental.

Physical restraint of children and young people in residential child care is an intervention '...which is advised should only be used as a last resort...' , in order to avoid serious, imminent physical and emotional harm to the young person or to others. But it is an intervention understandably fraught with complexities and tensions, mirroring the context within which it takes place.

A rights perspective

Here in Scotland, with a national focus firmly on promoting and protecting children's rights, and on improving the care system, physical restraint in residential child care has featured in discussions about the care of children and young people. From questions raised about the place physical restraint has as a sometimes necessary, and containing response to children's pain-based behaviour; to calls to abolish the use of restraint, as we have seen during the course of the Scottish Parliament's scrutiny of new proposed legislation to end the physical punishment of children, this important issue is being debated and considered at all levels.

At this year's Scottish Institute of Residential Child Care (SIRCC) Conference, a powerful presentation brought together new academic research and writing with the views of people with lived experience of being physically restrained, and the perspectives of practitioners involved in restraining children, to pose two questions:

"How can we reduce, and where possible eliminate, physical restraint in residential child care establishments?"; and
"Where physical restraints do occur, how can we increase the likelihood these are - and are experienced as - an act of care rather than brutality?"

A call to action

These questions called the residential child care workforce who were present, to action. A collective group, including practitioners, managers, care experienced people, academics, and regulators, and facilitated by CELCIS, formed to continue the conversation, focused on seeking out and engaging with consideration, the different voices, perspectives, and issues. This group is determined to ensure any future changes and progress that is made regarding restraint in Scotland is built on an understanding of the nuances of the debate, and that the conversation is informed by the broadest range of views and experiences.

Members of the group have contributed to this series of blog posts, which we will publish over the next three weeks, covering a range of areas of concern - from stigma to containment, criminalisation to system complexity - in order to stimulate and continue the debate.

This may be a challenging conversation, but it is an important one. Our hope is that the blog posts prompt comments, thoughts, opinions and contributions from readers will enrich and expand the conversation that has started.

So please, have a read, join in the discussion, and be part of answering the questions posed in the presentation at SIRCC, this conversation, and the issues raised by the authors.

You can do this by commenting beneath the individual posts, or if you prefer to have a conversation offline, please email celcis@strath.ac.uk, putting 'Restraint blog series' in the subject line.

Update | September 2021

The following video was recorded as part of SIRCC 2021 Online.

The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author/s and may not represent the views or opinions of our funders.

Commenting on the blog posts: sharing comments and perspectives prompted by the posts on this blog are welcome.

CELCIS operates a moderation process so your comment will not go live straight away.

Graphic text - Physical restraint in residential care. Read other blogs
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