Further Evidence of Violent Abuse in Specialist Settings

Blog by Amelia McLoughlan, Policy & Research Officer and Michelle Daley, Director.

ALLFIE is appalled, and yet unsurprised to see yet another investigation into the injustice of a ‘specialist’ setting, that found systematic and sustained abuse and denial of rights to Young Disabled people.

ALLFIE is appalled, and yet unsurprised to see yet another investigation into the injustice of a ‘specialist’ setting, that found systematic and sustained abuse and denial of rights to Young Disabled people, with Chairperson, Navin Kikabhai stating that, “It is shocking that once again we learn about the horrendous violence and abuse being experienced by Disabled people in segregated institutional settings, so-called homes.” Reporting by the BBC, documented hundreds of cases of abuse from 2010 through to 2021 at sites run by the Hesley Group, based in Doncaster.

The group describe themselves as providing “specialist care, support and education for people with complex care needs, including behaviours that challenge and a learning disability, often in association with autism”. Whilst Disabled Young people in their “care” were being locked outside in freezing temperatures while naked, and having vinegar poured on wounds, with further horrific violent harm reported. Yet again, this spotlights the systematic failings that allow for bad practice and inhumane treatment under the terminology of “care”. Kikabhai reflects from scenes in history:

This story broke just as I was reflecting on the Holocaust Remembrance Day and the horrendous abuse and murder of Disabled children and adults that was already taking shape in the early 1930s. Have we learnt nothing about subjecting Disabled people to segregated institutions and to dehumanising experiences? In the coming weeks we will read about empty platitudes, and responses such as “we will learn lessons” and “never again” etc.

According to one parent’s testimony, their child’s placement in this setting cost the Local Authority around £300,000 a year. This clearly demonstrates that funding is being funnelled into specialist provision and yet this is not indicative of the quality of support or a guarantee that the Young Disabled person will be treated humanely. ALLFIE has repeatedly spoken about the continuing financing of segregated provision by increasing specialist places and disincentivising mainstream inclusive education, under the misinterpretation that these specialist settings offer superior or better provisions.

While the regulator did intervene in and closed all three children’s homes in March 2021, an earlier 2010 Council report that detailed that Young Disabled people were being violently harmed. Despite this, Local Authorities continued to place Young Disabled people into these settings and fund the group’s profits with known safeguarding and abuse concerns. These included two residential special schools that held a “good” Ofsted rating throughout. Inspection regimes are useless and are part of the problem because Hesley continues to run a school and placements for adults labelled with complex needs.

One staff member also admitting to ordering a taser device from abroad with the intention to use it within the home for “protection”. Luckily, the electronic stun device was seized by Customs and Excise meaning that it never reached its intended destination. However, this disclosure clearly demonstrates that the Young Disabled people within these specialist places were not regarded as human beings but were instead viewed as threats. Furthermore, staff members within these specialist settings, accused of assault were able to leave Hesley and work for different companies after the homes closed.

As of writing this post, Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan, has repeatedly declined to be interviewed despite the responsibility and accountability for education and children’s social care falling within her remit, no individual statement has been issued in regard to this matter. In fact, the SEND AP Improvement Plan has pledged to open further specialist schools and placements, despite the numerous evidence of violent abuse and harm in these settings as reported by the BBC and the Disability News Service.

While these reports fail to document the quality of education Young Disabled people can receive within these specialist settings, there are clear and significant concerns about institutionalisation and the definition of “care“ being used to enable violent abuse and harm. Kikabhai points out the seriousness of these findings, “These are criminal and cruel acts of violence and torture, degrading, dehumanising, inhuman treatment. It is scandalous that millions of pounds of public money is being used to abuse and harm Disabled people”.

In light of this continuing reporting, ALLFIE again demands that the government moves away from specialist provision and fully implement Article 24 and relating articles on freedom from violence, abuse and harm of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). The solution to end all forms of segregated education, violence, abuse and harm towards Disabled people is to have a change in law and an education system that is based on the rights and justice for ALL people in the UK.


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