Bristol Councillor Calls for Consequences for the Abuse of Autistic Pupils

  • Bristol City Council was Responding to the Sir Stephen Bubb Report at People Scrutiny Commission

A Bristol City Councillor has called for ‘justice’ and ‘consequences’ for the abuse of autistic children she claims is happening in the city’s schools.

Labour Councillor for Hartcliffe and Withywood, Kerry Bailes, made the impassioned plea during a meeting of People Scrutiny Commission at City Hall this week.

The commission had been listening to Executive Director of People Hugh Evans, discuss a report which looked at the city’s failing of autistic people and those with Learning Disabilities.

Sir Stephen Bubb, conducted a review of Bristol’s provision for Autism and Learning Disabilities, publishing the review – Building Rights: a review of Bristol’s policies and actions for people with learning disabilities and autistic people, in May 2021.

In it he said: ‘Bristol can no longer claim to be an ‘autism friendly city’ and should stop using this slogan.’

Bristol Autistic Pupils Abuse
Executive Director of People Hugh Evans at People Scrutiny Commission

During his presentation to the commission, Evans said: “We as a product of this report, we are committed to Sir Stephen’s main challenge, which is that in order to be an autism friendly city, Bristol and its partners in the region, South Gloucestershire, North Somerset need to be more joined up. NHS, local authority, the criminal justice system, the DWP and of course the really important independent voluntary community sector services that are absolutely fundamental to the healthy communities that we need to engender in order to better support people with these kinds of needs. And we need to look at how we provide longitudinal support locally bespoke to people’s needs and progressive so that if people are in spike parts of their experience if they’re having a heightened level of anxiety or difficulty in their lives that we can offer a progressive solution that helps.”

Evans revealed that Bristol City Council had been successful in securing £3.3m over the next three years from a Changing Futures bid.

Changing Futures is a government initiative aiming to improve outcomes for adults experiencing multiple disadvantage including issues such as combinations of homelessness, substance misuse, mental health issues, domestic abuse and contact with the criminal justice system.?

Evans said: “We have been successful in our Changing Futures bid that’s worked to bring together parts of the system to work more effectively to support people who are on that kind of multiple disadvantage group. People who are prone to rough sleeping and homelessness. People who are prone to drug and alcohol use. People who are in touch with the criminal justice system. People, quite often care leavers, quite often people involved in sex work etc and as noted before, people with autism, learning disabilities and brain injuries are very highly represented in that group of people. So that’s a starting point for us in regard to this system-wide approach. And happy to say that we’ve attracted over £3.3 million over the next three years to enable us to kick-start that so that’s very positive.”

Councillor Kerry Bailes says there’s ‘no accountability’ for the way autistic pupils are treated by some schools

But Councillor Bailes hit back saying: “This all sounds really amazing. A lot of it should already be happening. The law was changed a very long time ago and we just haven’t seen it. As public forum said, there is no accountability. You know that I’ve been in the system nearly four years now and I’ve seen no difference. It’s still very much a you’ll do as you’re told or else system and when I say or else, I mean or else. It is awful.”

“My son was thrown into a car park at five years old. He was locked in an office for being autistic. This report talks about abuse in care homes. That’s happening in our schools under our noses. And when we complain about it, we are lied about. There is no accountability. What kind of consequences are there if none of this happens? You know it can’t go on as it is. This is our children, you know? What consequences are there? The people who abused autistic people in care homes went to prison. You know what? When are our children going to get justice. When is there going to be some consequences?”

In response Evans said: “I appreciate and sympathize with the concerns that you raise and I hope that you recognise that this in its way is a recognition of those same concerns because we haven’t got it right at the moment and I think that the issues that you’re raising one way or the other – I can’t speak about issues like that you’ve raised Councillor Bailes because I don’t really know any of the background to it – but one thing I will say is in general the issues that you raised are the issues that we want to address.”

Bristol Autistic Pupils Abuse
Director of Education and skills, Alison Hurley addresses People Scrutiny Commission

Director of Education and skills, Alison Hurley said she couldn’t comment on the individual case that Councillor Bailes had raised by said it was potentially ‘very serious’ and wanted a follow-up conservation to address the safeguarding concern.

She also referred to the Alternative Learning Provision item on the same agenda, saying: “In terms of that life course and although we will be touching on elements of this in relation to the alternative learning review and you know specialist provision in the second education skills paper, really a lot of what we’ve heard in terms of that early identification and support, making sure that we understand what children and young people need at the earliest point and trying to stop that escalation is a is a really strong theme and a big part of the work that’s taking place in response to the Send inspection that happened in 2019.

“So the written statement of action which we’ve obviously been working towards for the last 12 to 15 months has some very very clear milestones around these particular areas and part of that sort of wider workforce development making sure that we have an understanding in our schools and settings of how to meet the needs how to include our young people more successfully is definitely some of the the outcomes that we’re looking to achieve through that Written Statement of Action. However in the same breath I would say that obviously it is going to take time to embed and it won’t necessarily change some of the experiences our young people have had in recent years.”

Conservative Councillor Geoff Gollop said he had ‘real concerns’ reading the case studies accompanying the Bubb report, saying he felt ’embarrassed’ and ‘concerned’ due to the ‘significance’ of what the council had got wrong. He also called out the closing down of drop-in centres which provided support and socialising opportunities.

He said: “I have a concern about how we stop the problems happening and you talk about those in the criminal justice system and those who are homeless but actually, how do we stop those who are in a semi-stable situation from falling into becoming homeless and becoming part of the criminal justice system now. I read all this about a charter of rights and I think oh that’s wonderful and then I see we’re going to have a commissioner and think well actually, that’s a cost and what’s that going to achieve? And then I look at the fact that the drop-in centres for adults with special needs have been closed and are not going to happen again. So actually, we’re turning to adults who need some form of social interaction other than their one-to-one care support being told that that can’t6 happen anymore and being told that the only support they’ll be given is to have six weeks of a session to prepare them for something and then they’re on their own. Now you’re talking of people who actually aren’t able to arrange meetings and gatherings themselves and to make things happen and the authority has withdrawn that level of social support.

Councillor Geoff Gollop

“And so I have a real concern that what I see here is what we’re aiming to do, is not actually what would we’re delivering in the policy that’s in practice at the moment. And that doesn’t seem to me that it’s a policy that anyone wants to happen because it doesn’t fit in with any of the words I’ve heard expressed by officers or or Cabinet members.

“So I just have a real concern that we may be spending money on a bureaucracy when actually that money could be funding some drop-in centres that could actually be taking people who are troubled and giving them the opportunity to meet and have support and counselling that could stop them from falling into the criminal justice system. So I just fear that we are getting this very seriously wrong. So I really just want to register my concerns.”

In response to Gollop’s concerns, Evans said: “One of the key ways that I think we need to look at is to stop doing crisis-driven episodic responses and to start looking at long-term relationships and support for people so that we can support people over the longer term to build capacity in things like unemployment orientated services and support and to build capacity and to support people to live independently in their own accommodation or in the accommodation that suits them and any carers that they may have. To improve the capacity for social interaction I have to say that the drop-in centres example again is troubling but it’s not, it’s been a really difficult time to provide activities where people can all get together because in regards to the drop-ins in Bristol, we haven’t just, haven’t been, and quite a lot of day services we haven’t really been able to haven’t really been able to open them due to infection control. But I think you know ,I have to agree that we’re not delivering to the aspirations that are in the Bubb report or to the aspirations that I’ve highlighted that we have at the moment and that we really need to do quite a lot of work in order to up our game in that respect. So I fully accept that point.”

Unplacated, Gollop responded to Evans: “Of course the drop in centres couldn’t happen during lockdown, but at the end of lockdown the explanation is that the funding is stopped and was taken out of the budget because they weren’t going to be used anymore and is therefore not part of the authority’s offer. My point is that if the only support that’s given is one to one through support – that’s great because it’s inevitably better that people are living in the community than they are living in institutions so I have no problem with that – but actually their human rights to actually have a social gathering with other people where they can interact rather than only ever being one-to-one with a paid care worker I think is fundamental. And yet, as an authority we said no that can’t happen anymore. And it’s back to the usual issue that the authority could be the facilitator to make those things happen – the individuals can’t – so it worries me that we are not responding and not reacting.”

Evans said: “In regard to action plans there are a range of intentions but it’s I mean if we’re going to get this right this is going to be huge and it’s going to take place over you know, a number of years. We’re not going to be able to to fix a systemic set of problems that have developed over 40 years in in six months.”

Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees, is said to be fully behind the commitments to improving the city for autistic people and those with Learning Disabilities.

Evans said: “The Mayor is behind this. The mayor’s sent out a letter to the City Leaders and to the leaders of the key organizations and others in the voluntary and community sector at the end of last week as a call to, a rallying call to say we really need to and want to do something about this and so we can make that letter available if anybody wants to see it.”

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