The following has been written by someone who has recently attended a positive handling training course.
He has asked me if I would be willing to publish it for him as if he does it could jeopardise his current work position. He has also asked to remain anonymous at this stage for the same reason, which is understandable.
However, he feels very strongly that something needs to be said as the experience left him (in his own words) a “broken man”.
Here is what he sent me.
“After much pondering, I decided I needed to write this blog in order to let people know about my recent experiences of attending a course.
Now, before I start, let me tell you a bit about me.
I’m an independent training consultant who also works as a children’s rights campaigner, volunteering with organizations that work with children and young people.
I also do lots of work around safeguarding and mental health, I’m also a foster carer and I’m currently studying for a psychology degree. I
am doing all of this in order to help empower children’s lives for the better. That’s my life’s mission.
Because of my commitment to my mission, I have lots of experience working with children and a lot of my time is spent dealing with children in trauma and crisis, and in order to enhance my skills and knowledge, I wanted to get some frontline experience working in schools with children, particularly with children who exhibit behaviour that challenges and who have special educational needs.
I Needed More Experience in SEN Schools
As part of my own CPD, I identified that working in SEN schools is one specific area I lacked experience within that I needed to address.
In order to do that, I applied to a number of schools to try to get voluntary or paid experience and I was offered a placement in a school.
As part of that placement, I had to complete the schools mandatory training in ‘positive handling’.
Positive Handling Training
Now I’ve done many ‘positive handling’ courses in the past and I am also a qualified level three restraint instructor in a system that I researched incredibly carefully, and have delivered ‘positive handling’ to many organisations across the country and also in Europe.
However, I consider myself a critical thinker, a humble person, and somebody who holds a balanced view in such matters.
Therefore I entered this training course on that basis, and I decided that I would enter this training with an open mind and with a view to hopefully learn something that will help me move forward as part of my own CPD (Continual Professional Development).
I Walked Away A Broken Man
However, having now attended the course, I walked away six hours later a broken man.
This may be dramatic, to say the least. However, this is a true reflection of how I felt having attended that course.
And after a deep and long reflection, I have decided that I want to share with you now the problems I had with that course.
Now I expect some of you to think that this is just another trainer who is taking the opportunity to say something negative about another training provider because he ‘thinks he knows better’, and that is understandable.
But that genuinely isn’t the case at all.
The Reason Why I Wrote This
My real reason for writing this is because since the training I have had to ask myself this question: “if I honestly believe that what I have experienced is putting children and possibly even staff at risk, then, as someone who is a children’s rights campaigner, committed to safeguarding and a foster carer who deeply cares about the safety and welfare of children, is saying nothing an option?”
And the answer to that question, after much deliberation, was “No”.
So here’s goes.
The course I attended delivered a mix of physical skills and theory around challenging behaviour, legal views and other aspects.
I Was Shocked Within The First Five Minutes!
Perhaps the most shocking aspect happened within the first five minutes of the course.
Shortly before it was described to me that positive handling was a good thing, the tutor conducted an icebreaker with us. We had to do an activity by touching our chins. Sounds a little strange, but the instructor demonstrated by touching his own cheek.
Obviously, in true psychological fashion, everybody followed suit. Despite the instruction being to touch your chin, everybody touched their cheek because that’s what the instructor was doing.
That was the point when for the first time, but unfortunately not the last, the instructor decided to shout out ‘”DUUUUUUH S.E.N” in such a way that he mimicked a voice that would be typical of a person with a severe mental disability.
Using the word SEN in a derogatory term to a room full of people working in SEN schools, and to myself, a parent of a SEN child was simply mind-blowing.
More Bad Language
It was then when the bad language started.
A conversation took place in which the tutor asked everybody if they “liked working with children”, to which we replied, “Yes, of course we do”.
He then went on a five-minute story which basically told us that we were lying about the reality of working with children – because “most of the time we do. But at the end of a long-term, they are little shits”. That “at the end of the Christmas term”, which is a particularly long one, he believed there “would be nobody sat in this room who wasn’t looking at children thinking, “I’m going to shove that recorder right up your ass if you don’t stop fucking using it.”’”!!
This then continued into an abusive rant about children with SEN and our ability to deal with it, and indeed how our own opinions were.
This may be a reflection of how the tutor felt. However, did not mirror my own experience.
As a parent of a child with SEN, whom I adopted and has been living with me for seven years. At no point, have I wished to express such language, nor such actions towards a child.
The course itself and the content was pre-scripted. The PowerPoint was broken up with bits of physical skills training in between. However, the initial section of the PowerPoint stated that in the organization’s belief, positive handling was a good thing because, and I quote, “it helped us show children how much we care.” Positive handling is a good thing because it helps me show you that I don’t want you to get out of control. It was significantly against my own values.
This was further supported by the notion that the tutor, a tutor with (allegedly) 19 years experience in delivering this type of training, and who also worked in a SEN provision, stated that he had assemblies, where he would show all new children using other teachers how they would be restrained in order to help them.
For me, this is about normalizing a process which shouldn’t under any circumstances be considered normal.
Other elements of the PowerPoint included Law and guidance.
Legally Incorrect Advice
The Law and guidance that was put to us by the organization was at best scatty, it was in worst case scenario, completely made up.
The Legal brief consisted of telling people that as a general rule, nobody has the right to touch, move, hold, or contain another person, except when they have been given a duty of care. This would be considered, under the eyes of the law, of ‘acting outside the norm’.
However, this is in complete contradiction to what the law states.
Further information that was given to us was that under criminal law, a person is innocent until proven guilty.
This was, according to the instructor, true except for in the cases of teachers, where he stated: “A teacher will always be guilty until found innocent”.
This was a lie and completely made up.
He also suggested that at a very good friend of his who had been convicted on counts of abuse of two young boys, of which he denied, and who was subsequently released after nine years imprisonment, had that year changed the law in relation to (for the first time within criminal law) a teacher being innocent until proven guilty.
What he was actually talking about was an organization called FACT.
No changes in the law have taken place, but there was some consultation with police constables, which was a very different story to what we were being told.
Some information given to us was correct, such as using force as a punishment is always unlawful and schools should have no contact policies.
Stating That “Single Person Interventions Should Not Be Used” – Before Teaching Us Five Single Person Interventions
However, the tutor then went on to tell us that single person interventions should not be used. This was shortly before showing us five single person interventions!
Upon being questioned why he would show that, he replied, “Because a single person intervention should not be used forcefully, what we are doing now is using force positively”, which for me didn’t make sense because surely force is force, regardless of how it is being used?
For example, if I want a child to stop punching another child and I stopped the arm moving, surely that is using force. According to the instructor, use of force was only relevant when the ‘child is angry’.
Other worrying parts of the PowerPoint, which may be true or may be controversial, was about the school informing the parents when their child has or is being physically held in a physical intervention.
He stated that it’s up to the school to decide that issue (in short you [the parent] don’t have too).
Upon these, and probably another seven or eight points (including some VERY misinformed guidance on depriving liberty – ‘a school governor must approve it’, I questioned the source of information, and the reply I received from the course tutor was, “I don’t know which law these are referring to. I think it’s the law of restraint”
I did a quick check and found that there is no law of restraint (but I already knew that).
The fact is the majority of law (in relation to what we were being taught) comes down to the Common Law, the Criminal Law Act, and the Children Act and in school settings, the Education and Inspection Act, with elements of guidance and legislation coming from those legal sources. There is no, strictly speaking, physical intervention law.
The Techniques Scared Me!
The techniques also scared me.
Long have I studied and seen the effects of a technique called the wrap or the T-wrap. However, being in the situation where I had to do a T-wrap really brought home how dangerous it was.
From a manual handling perspective, it was completely inappropriate. From a safety aspect in relation to the safety of the practitioner and a child, it was completely inappropriate. The chance of injury was clear and obvious.
We were also taught some ‘guiding’ movements consisting of many elements which included an absolute presumption that a child’s arms would not be moving or with their arms always bent at their side. In no other way could the techniques I was shown have worked.
They would have never have worked for a child who was doing anything other than being quiet and stood still – and if a child is being quiet and still there would be (generally speaking) no legal grounds for using force
The T-wrap itself, we know lots about. How that’s still in training, I don’t know. I’ll make it clear that no technique is illegal or unlawful, but we’ve known for a long time, a very long time, that such techniques have an increased risk of injury and death.
I don’t even need to start to tell you the amount of medical evidence that there is to support this theory.
But perhaps, the scariest technique was something called the ‘cradle’, which involved taking a child to the floor in a T-wrap and laying them on their side whilst reaching across their head and then pulling the child’s head back into your lap.
I Became Dizzy
I will also note that the instructor demonstrated the T-wrap upon me and in a training environment, I went very dizzy, I felt very sick, and it took me a few hours to recover.
And to put this into perspective, he was demonstrating the technique on me – a fully grown and developed adult in a training session. Just imagine how that could have affected a small child in a real situation if the same amount of force was used.
As a result, these raised significant manual handling, personal injury to practitioner and child and safeguarding issues with regards to this technique and process for me.
I will also point out these are all single person interventions, which the tutor had initially told us earlier on in the courses should not be used. As a result he was now blatantly contradicting his earlier statement.
I also couldn’t believe the techniques I was being asked to do.
Lots of the techniques involved intricate movements that are highly likely to increase the margin for errors to occur in situations of heightened emotional arousal, and my own personal first-hand evidence of this is that I was actually physically injured on the course after receiving a blow to the ribs from a flying fist where the thumb knuckle stuck into my side from a panicking candidate.
The two-person interventions involved me mixing up with other partners (people being trained).
I Can’t Remember What To Do
The most common statement that was said to me throughout the whole course, by all my training partners, (and I worked with about eight different people), without fail, was: “These techniques are okay, but I can’t remember what to do.”
This re-enforced the fact that the techniques were overly-complicated, and in a moment of crisis, where adrenaline was high, they simply wouldn’t work.
Technique wise, and I’ve been trained in five systems to date, I would class these techniques as the worst that I have ever seen in my professional capacity.
I do not advocate any system. What I do advocate is critical thinking.
Personally, when deciding what system of safer handling I would train as an instructor within, I looked at four different systems.
The system I chose, in my head and not the opinion of other people, was the safest in legal terms and medical terms, by far the safest that I had come across.
Which is why I choose, as an independent to use and train within that system.
I am an advocate of mental health and safeguarding with children and young people. I also mentioned earlier that I’m a foster carer. I also work with children who suffer with their mental health, with SEN (special educational needs).
My training not only informs and shows people how to restrain people in the safest possible way, and I also spend a considerable amount of time showing people how not to restrain, how to recognize their problems, not ‘normalising’ restraint and doing everything we can not to get into a restraint situation.
Is Restraint a Good Thing?
An instructor during this course told me that restraint is a good thing, is a normal thing, is a way that we get to show children how much we care for them. That to me was the most horrifying thing I’ve ever heard in training.
As somebody who deals with children who suffer from extreme trauma, extreme safeguarding abuses, from crisis that is life changing, I walked away from that training feeling more traumatized than anything else I’d done in my professional life.
Because when we support children, things happen. You cannot change what has happened. We can try to change the way people think, but we can’t change what’s happened.
We can only hope and put everything we’ve got into building a better future.
But when people who are meant to help you are making your problems worse I become seriously concerned.
These are people that you should be able to trust on a day to day basis. But when they think that holding people in restraint positions is normal, I start to lose faith in them and everything that I believe in. And it takes a long time to recover.
There were 40 people on that course and there were six courses happening for that organization that day.
That means there was around about 360 people being trained on that day alone, so this organization literally trains thousands of people a month.
I’ve had dealings with this particular organization, in the past. Not directly, but the vast majority of my clients consist of people saying, “Please, help me recover from this organization.”
My interactions with other people have always been, “I cannot believe how much better what you teach is than anything else I’ve heard before”.
It’s for this reason, and this reason only that I’ve decided to be open to the public about this particular training. Because if a professional of my knowledge, competence and experience can be destroyed by this training, then how many people out there does this also affect?
How many children out there are being handled in a way that they don’t need to? In ways that are dangerous and being taught by trainers who have contempt for the children with special educational needs?
How many people is this going to affect before somebody gets hurt, somebody gets killed, or we have some serious, serious problems in the UK?
People say hindsight is a good thing. But foresight, which means I can see what’s going to happen, is a much better thing as it helps reduce risk – which is actually what good health and safety is all about!
We need to take action.”
Authors Name Withheld