Children locked up in their rooms for up to 23 hours a day at Milton Keynes secure training centre

An unannounced visit by inspectors has revealed 'widespread failings' and a list of serious concerns

By Sally Murrer
Wednesday, 13th October 2021, 1:16 pm
Updated Wednesday, 13th October 2021, 1:43 pm

Children as young as 12 are being locked in their rooms for up to 23 hours a day at MK's Oakhill secure training centre, an inspection has revealed.

Inspectors have just published their report after arriving unannounced at the centre last month. It reveals "widespread failings that are having a significant impact on the care and well-being of children."

There has been a high increase in violence and use of force, and strategies to develop positive behaviours and social skills are "in disarray", states the report.

Oakhill Secure Training Centre in Milton Keynes

"Children’s day-to-day experiences are very poor. Many children described to inspectors chaotic arrangements and general disorganisation at the centre. They said that they did not know what was happening from morning to afternoon, or from one day to the next," it reads.

During the summer, the centre's air circulation system was inadequate, giving very limited ventilation in some areas. This made living and working there "very uncomfortable at best".

The report adds: "Since mid-July 2021, boys had spent approximately 19 hours a day locked in their rooms and, on some days, this increased to 23 hours. However, inspectors reported concerns about the data ‘indicating that the time children have spent locked into their rooms could be higher than that reported by the centre’."

Oakhill is operated by G4S Care and Justice Services and provides accommodation for up to 80 boys aged 12 to 17 years. All are serving a custodial sentence or have been remanded to custody by the courts.

Boys are locked in their rooms for between 19 and 23 hours a day

Their education and healthcare are also provided on site by G4S.

The inspectors' monitoring visit was commissioned by the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice to due to emerging concerns about the care and wellbeing of children at the centre.

"The focus of this visit was to assess the day-to-day care and experiences of children to understand how much time children spend out of their room and what activities they were able to undertake," states the report.

It paints a damning picture of lack of staffing, with minimum levels to ensure the children's safety not met on the "vast majority of days" during July and August. Though extra staff have now been brought in, morale is low - and disruption is high.

"The failure of managers and centre staff to implement appropriate and reasonable boundaries appears to be a contributing factor to a significant increase in violence, use of force and single separation (where children are locked into their rooms due to being a significant risk to themselves or others). Since the last inspection, these incidents have increased and are at an extremely high level," states the report.

The children's education was also criticised and inspectors found boys were watching films in their rooms instead of attending lessons.

The report said: "When children are locked into their bedrooms, education does not occur face to face but through a child’s locked bedroom door. Poor practice on living units undermines education provision. For example, inspectors saw a unit leave education 3 because they did not like the lesson.

"Children were able to watch DVDs on living units instead of being engaged in education lessons."

There is a now a newly appointed interim temporary director at the centre, say inspectors.

"She acknowledges the concerns and understands the challenges that need to be addressed. However, permanent leadership is not in place, but is essential to plan and implement positive, meaningful and lasting change for the vulnerable children at the centre," they state.

Oakhill bosses have this week issued a statement saying: “The safety of children at Oakhill secure training centre is paramount. Earlier this year, staff numbers at Oakhill were severely depleted by the impact of Covid-19 as significant numbers of staff were required, under prevailing regulations, to self-isolate at home.

“Since the Ofsted visit Oakhill’s operating regime for children has improved and, over the past month, children have been able to spend on average 12 hours out of their rooms daily. Education in classrooms has been restored and children are now receiving a full educational programme.”