Sarah Oakley’s 15-year old son Jack was sent by their council to a secure unit 250 miles from home. She says she had no idea of the risks posed by other residents. Here is her story.
When Jack reached nine months old we became aware that he didn’t sleep very much. He would bite, become very angry, pull hair, scratch. I know that lots of other children do that, but Jack did it on a far more serious scale for such a young child. The strength he showed was just like, phenomenal for a child his size.
He was diagnosed with autism at 3 years old.
He never lasted more than 8 days at any pre-school. He was kicked out of 7. Then he went to school and it followed the same pattern. Constant exclusions, being sent out.
It was really tough. But he was my son. I done the best by him that I could.
At times I was really shattered, absolutely shattered. I just wanted to sleep.
He’s very hyperactive. His moods fluctuate. He becomes obsessed with things but the key point is the attention and hyperactivity, he will go and go and go and go.
Physically for one person to care for Jack is very, very hard to keep up with. So it was recommended that he attend a residential school.
He kind of became quite unsettled, quite nervous, quite anxious, quite aggressive. And he tried to jump out of a car, moving 70 mph with a staff member.
There were a few incidents like that. And that was the reasoning they felt they needed to secure him. And they mentioned securing him in a children’s unit to be assessed by a doctor.
At the time I was equally concerned for my son because trying to jump out of a moving car on motorway is very dangerous. So I wanted him to be seen by a doctor, I wanted him to be stabilised and I wanted him to be kept safe.
I wasn’t aware of what other people within that placement were. I wasn’t aware of that at all.
I learnt of that after five months of Jack being there. I had Jack home one weekend and I’d taken him back to the unit. At five past nine the phone rang and it was a staff member saying my son had been taken to A&E and he had been violently assaulted. She apologised. Being straight, she said Jack had taken a pummelling, he’d taken a real beating.
He could have had major head injuries, I didn’t know. I was petrified and it was awful because he was 247 miles away. It was heartbreaking, the worst nightmare you can imagine. Sitting clock watching and sitting up all night, waiting for a phone call.
He was violently assaulted by a convicted child murder. He received a black eye and swelling to the face. Carpet burn, if you like, on the forehead from having his head stamped on four times whilst sitting watching telly.
I just can’t see the reasoning or the thought behind it. Why would you stick somebody who’s vulnerable, has special needs, who can’t cope in a mainstream school, why would they put him somewhere with young convicted killers and such? I couldn’t believe they had done that.
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Thurrock Council told Channel 4 News in a statement: “Thurrock Council’s prime concern is always the welfare of the young people involved in any case and, while it is also always a difficult and sensitive decision as well as a very rare one to place any child in a secure unit, it was considered this was in the child’s best interests at the time in this instance.
“Before the council’s application for a Secure Order, this young person was assessed by a child psychiatrist who recommended he be placed in a secure unit to stabilise his behaviour because he was at risk of serious harm to himself and others.
“The council applied to the court for a Secure Order following a history of escalating violent and aggressive behaviour towards adults and other children in his residential school and regularly absconding, placing himself at further risk.
Unfortunately there were no alternatives available at that time Thurrock Council
“The court made the order as the risk-taking and dangerous behaviour met the threshold for secure accommodation. The parents were kept fully informed throughout and were in agreement that the application was made.
“Following the court’s decision, the council carried out a nationwide search to find a suitable secure unit. Due to the shortage of welfare beds in secure units, [this] was the only one that had a vacancy.
“The council regrets this placed him close to young people who had a history of serious crime, but unfortunately there were no alternatives available at that time.”