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Youth Treatment Centre, Brentwood

Volume 931: debated on Thursday 12 May 1977

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether investigations into the allegations made by a national newspaper in connection with the St. Charles Youth Treatment Centre, Brentwood, Essex have been completed; and whether he will make a statement.

I have received a report on allegations made in some newspapers during April about conduct at St. Charles Youth Treatment Centre, Brentwood.

The most important single fact about St. Charles is that it cares for children whom the rest of society has been unable to help, many of them themselves unwilling to accept help. Almost all have serious problems and difficulties. In such circumstances incidents, sometimes serious have to be expected, though it is only right to say that those quoted in the newspapers during April occurred over a period of three years.

One of the most serious allegations was that a member of the staff had a sexual relationship with one of the girls in his charge. This was three years ago. He was first suspended and then dismissed.

Another allegation referred to a girl of 17 who was discharged last June to live with a married—although separated—young man and his parents. The sequel has been unhappy, but the discharge was decided on the girl's interests, was discussed with her parents, and was agreed with the Social Services Department of her local authority, who accepted responsibility for her.

It was also alleged that this girl was put on the pill at 15, and that teenage girls and boys at the centre were allowed to sleep together. Some girls at St. Charles are prescribed oral contraceptives either for medical reasons or for their own protection because of the possibility of promiscuity outside the centre. Boys and girls at the centre are not

Allegation

Comment

1. A boy did not return to the Centre after a week-end's leave that "lasted six months".When the boy did not return the police were immediately informed, but the boy's local authority decided to leave him at home on trial. The boy was removed from the centre's register three weeks after his failure to return.
2. Staff laid bets for boys.This did occur last year in the case of one boy and was stopped by the director immediately it came to his attention. The member of staff has since left.
3. Staff took the young people drinking in pubs.This has occurred in two incidents and appropriate action was taken. The centre's instructions state clearly that young people are not to be taken into public houses.
4. That staff purchase cigarettes for children and that even 10-year-olds smoke.It is usual for young people and the staff to ask each other to do some shopping. Smoking is, however, actively discouraged. There have never been any 10-year-old children at St. Charles; the youngest child admitted was over 11 years old.
5. That a girl was bought a glass of cider and stole a glass from a pub in London, which was condoned by the member of staff with her.The girl was bought a Coca Cola and when returning to the centre disclosed that she had stolen a glass. The member of staff remonstrated with her, reported her behaviour to the centre and took away the glass.

The House will not wish me to go into great detail. My general attitude is that any serious allegation should be

allowed to sleep together. They are under constant observation; landing doors separating the boys from the girls are locked at 10 p.m. each night, and there are two members of the staff on duty in each house unit throughout the night.

One article said that the Director of St. Charles was suspended from duty for a period in 1976. This occurred because the Department received a report that the director had allowed his personal affairs to interfere with the work of the centre. He was reinstated after an investigation which indicated that the work of the centre had not suffered.

The most recent allegation that a member of the staff tried to strangle a 17-year old boy is at present being investigated by the police. A further allegation about this incident was that the boy was subsequently sent home secretly from the centre without the knowledge of the police. This is untrue. The decision to discharge the boy was taken jointly by the centre and the boy's local authority. The police and the boy's mother were informed of the decision before the boy left.

No evidence has been found to support allegations of lesbianism, of sexual intercourse taking place in public, of staff members being drunk on duty or of a member of staff giving money to a girl to abscond.

I list below some further allegations with comments:

investigated. This we have done in the spirit that the interests of the children must be our main concern. I am satisfied

that the staff at the centre are a dedicated group who are doing valuable work in what are often difficult circumstances.