Physical restraint in residential child care and other care settings

Children and young people have the right to feel safe, secure and protected in all aspects of their lives. The Holding Safely guidance for residential child care practitioners and managers, published in Scotland 2005 and updated in 2014, refers to physical restraint as “an intervention in which staff hold a child to restrict his or her movement and should only be used to prevent harm”. This guidance says that physical restraint should only be used when there is a risk of “serious imminent harm” and as a “last resort”.

References to physical restraint, seclusion, physical intervention and restrictive practice on this webpage are made in the context of the definitions outlined in Scotland’s Care Inspectorate guidance Records that all registered children and young people’s care homes must keep and guidance on notification reporting. These definitions were collated and recommended for use by the Scottish Physical Restraint Action Group. The Holding Safely guidance was written to help reduce occasions when practitioners felt the need to restrain a young person when they or others were at risk; to prepare practitioners for the times when restrictive practices were felt to be absolutely necessary; and for practitioners to effectively meet children and young people’s needs and uphold their rights in Scotland.

Understanding the complexity involved in the consideration, or use, of restraint is critically important given the potential for:

  • misuse (considered from a children’s rights perspective)
  • traumatisation and/or re-traumatisation
  • other psychological damage
  • damage to relationships
  • physical injury
  • death

Physical restraint is not used in all residential child care services. Some services have now adopted a policy of ‘non-restraint’ with mixed degrees of success. Find out about the ongoing work of the Scottish Physical Restraint Action Group.

Sharing perspectives

CELCIS published a series of blog posts by care experienced people and those working in residential child care, discussing the challenging and complex subject of physical restraint. Together they represent a sample of different perspectives and experiences.

Graphic text - We need to talk about physical restraint Graphic text - Should our young people be experiencing physical restraint at any level? Can theory be an ally in efforts to reduce physical restraint? A graphic promoting a blog by Joe Gibb Graphic text - 2019, a year of real opportunity in Residential Child Care
Graphic text - Physical restraint in residential child care: A watershed moment? Graphic text - Unintended consrquences: Restrtaint and the criminalisation of looked after children Graphic text - Why didn't you restrain me? When physical restraint can meet a child's need There is no place for physical restraint in residential child care Turning conversation into action