Social Services inspectors carried out an investigation at Aycliffe Centre for Children, near Darlington, Co Durham, following allegations that up to 11 children received serious injuries while being restrained. More complaints are being investigated.
The inspectors followed up allegations made in a World in Action documentary last month that six children had had bones broken, and also several complaints made by children in 1992. The inspectors criticised the Aycliffe regime, saying it was based on a 'culture of confrontation'.
The methods of restraint used included arm and wrist locks, often to force children to the floor in a technique known as 'decking'. Staff had been trained by prison officers in methods devised for use with adults. The report said these methods depended on pain for their effectiveness and carried an inherent risk of injury.
The inspectors discovered that recorded incidents of physical restraint had suddenly doubled to 215 a month from the second half of 1992. This followed a public declaration in May 1992 by the director, Dr Masud Hoghughi, of an intention to use force to restrain children. Dr Liam Fox, parliamentary secretary at the Department of Health, said: 'This report confirms that children did suffer physical injury when staff at Aycliffe followed the centre's tough methods of restraint. It has to be recognised that the children . . . are some of the nation's most disturbed. Some may need to be restrained to prevent injury to themselves or others, but the aim must be to exercise control while minimising the risk of injury.
'We were also concerned that Aycliffe was, in effect, operating independently of Durham County Council, and to find that young people there did not have adequate channels to raise complaints . . . the council's attempts to manage the home had been frustrated and any oversight it had was nominal. Aycliffe ignored the council's restraint policies and operated its own which were based on a confrontational culture . . .'
The restraint methods used were banned by Durham social services immediately after the World in Action programme. Earlier this month, Dr Hoghughi stepped down as director after 22 years, saying he had decided to go into private practice.
The inspectors recommend that the council establishes a strategic review of Aycliffe's role; nominates a senior manager to oversee complaints; brings Aycliffe under its control; and improves training, practice and management in homes for 'seriously challenging' young people.
Bob Pendlebury, the council's deputy leader, said that it had to 'get the right balance between protecting the rights of children and exercising proper control'.