Adam Rickwood case review demands youth justice overhaul

The serious case review into the death of Adam Rickwood yesterday called for an urgent review of the use of painful restraint on children in custody as part of a wider overhaul of the youth justice system.

The Lancashire Safeguarding Children Board’s review on the 14-year-old’s suicide at Hassockfield Secure Training Centre said it was “probable” Adam should not have been restrained before his death.

It slammed the current youth justice system for focusing on “containment at the expense of effective intervention” and questioned why children under 16 were detained in custody “other than in exceptional circumstances”.

It called on the government to:

  • Clarify the legal status of children remanded into local authority accommodation with a secure requirement, such as Adam, as looked-after. The review said this was currently a “grey area”.
  • Improve access to specialist therapeutic services in STCs.
  • Increase scrutiny of STCs by local safeguarding children boards.

Adam Rickwood was left bleeding after being restrained using a “nose distraction” technique – an upward blow to the base of the nose – for refusing to go to his room the day before he was found hanging in his room on 9 August 2004.

The review said the technique involved the use of pain to ensure compliance – contrary to the aims of the Physicial Control in Care system used in STCs  – and could breach the European Convention on Human Rights.

Adam had been restrained for non-compliance, breaching secure training centre rules allowing restraint to be used only when children were at risk of harm or absconding, the review found.

Following Adam Rickwood’s inquest in June, the government changed the STC rules allowing restraint to be used “for good order and discipline”, but the review raised concerns this did not make clear whether children could be restrained for non-compliance. Staff at Hassockfield had “little understanding” of restraint procedures, the review said.

Adam, who had a history of self-harm and substance misuse when he was remanded into Hassockfield, was identified as high-risk on his arrival but his risk assessment file was closed “erroneously” 11 days before his death, the review found.

A lack of information-sharing between agencies and “inadequate” responses by some social workers also led to failings prior to Adam Rickwood’s entry to custody.

Adam was sent to Hassockfield in Durham, more than 100 miles from his home, because there were no vacancies in the local authority secure children’s home (Lasch) in Lancashire, which closed in 2005.

The review said the lack of local beds resulted from the Youth Justice Board’s policy of “refocusing resources” away from Laschs to STCs and young offender institutions, which it said could compromise the secure estate’s ability to prioritise safeguarding.

More information

Youth justice boss defends board over use of restraint

Rickwood verdict fails to quell restraint row

Child Minder blog: The war on restraint

Essential information on youth justice

Nacro guide to looked-after children and youth justice

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