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(UK) 'Culture of abuse' in residential schools for disabled

Mar 12, 2023, Ham and High: Mary Langan on 'culture of abuse' in residential schools

N. London

It is more than a decade since my son was excluded from an autism day school in north London.

With few options left I visited a school in Doncaster, run by the Hesley Group. Though the school seemed welcoming and well run, we could not face the return journey of more than 300 miles that would have been required to visit him – and we eventually found a residential school in Buckinghamshire run by the Macintyre Group. It meant we could see him and he could visit home. We were very lucky.

The recent report by the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel of a "culture of abuse and harm" at the same Doncaster school (and two others in the area) caused a shiver down my spine.

It was shocking to read that children with autism and learning disabilities were subjected to "significant and varied" emotional abuse, violence and sexual harm as well as neglect, and misuse of medication.

All this could so easily have been the fate of our son – and this in a school run by an organisation with a good reputation for high standards of care.

One striking feature of the Doncaster story was that the 108 children in three schools came from 55 different local authorities, some – like us - long distances away. One consequence of this is that it is difficult for parents and other family members to maintain close contact with their children and to carry out informal surveillance of standards of care and practice.

Reports of other similar scandals have noted that a lack of close parental contact increases the vulnerability of children in residential care.

In response to a series of reports of mistreatment and neglect of adults with mental health problems as well as autism and learning disabilities in mental hospitals – including the Edenfield Centre in Manchester and the Huntercombe Group – Maria Caulfield MP has announced a rapid review of patient safety, led by Dr Geraldine Strathdee, who is conducting similar inquiries in Essex.

I hope that this review – and further inquiries in Doncaster – will consider the lack of appropriate local provisions in many parts of the country and the resulting obstacles to close family involvement.


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