Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Paris Hilton backs tougher law on restraints used in schools in Northern Ireland

Paris Hilton has shown her support for Harry’s Law, after personally battling with trauma caused by seclusion and restraint during her teenage years.

What is Harry’s Law?

Harry’s Law aims to impose tougher laws on when restrictive practices, such as isolation and mechanical restraint, can be used in schools in Northern Ireland. Currently, schools retain the authority to use physical intervention when necessary and don’t have to record restraint incidents or inform families.

The campaign for Harry’s Law would make it compulsory for schools to report to parents and the Education Authority when they had restrained or isolated a pupil. It also urges schools to provide better training for staff and teach other, positive ways to address ‘challenging’ behaviour.

The campaign is led by Deirdre Shakespeare, Harry’s mother, and began after she realised how frequently her son was being restrained at his school. Harry has a learning disability and is non-verbal, and was just four years old when restrictive practices began being used on him.

Deirdre and her husband Rodney had given the school permission to put Harry in a chair during mealtimes. However, photos later revealed that he was regularly strapped into a seat by his ankles during lessons, something the couple had not agreed to and were not informed about.

Harry’s mother said his treatment has “psychologically and emotionally harmed” him, and he started to become fearful of everything around him, even at home.

Paris Hilton has appealed to Stormont’s Education Committee to provide “meaningful protection” for children

Paris Hilton, the American celebrity and businesswoman, has recently taken to Twitter appealing to Stormont’s Education Committee to provide “meaningful protection” for children.

With 17 million followers on Twitter, Paris has hugely raised the profile of the case which many campaign supporters are extremely grateful for. Beth Morris, who co-founded the International Coalition against Restraint and Seclusion (ICARS), said to Paris during a BBC interview, “You using your voice to speak up for them is just absolutely amazing.”

Paris has already helped demand a change in restraint laws in Utah, where she attended a boarding school which regularly used restrictive practices. She explains that it was here she experienced verbal, emotional and physical abuse when she attended in the 1990s.

The bill prevents youth treatment centres in Utah from punishing children in certain ways, including spanking, hitting and denying food or water, or any other treatment which intends to “frighten or humiliate”.

The abuse Paris experienced at Provo Canyon School has traumatised her throughout her adult life. She hopes by speaking up about the issue, she can prevent other children from being subject to the same fate.

Is the issue being addressed?

The British Association of Social Workers Northern Ireland has said restrictive practices could have damaging effects on children. As a result, the government in Northern Ireland say they are currently investigating the issue.

The Department of Education’s Ricky Irwin said that the current guidance was “out of date”, and had not been updated since 1999. He said: “Now more than ever we need to provide clarity on physical intervention, especially when supporting pupils with very complex needs who require this intervention as part of their support plan. There is no legal requirement at present for schools to inform the department of incidents and any follow-up.”

A review is now being carried out regarding the use of restraint and seclusion in education, which will include the views of children and their parents, as well as school staff. However, there is currently no timetable for when that review will be completed and any recommendations for change would have to be approved by the Education Minister before they are implemented.

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