“Harry’s Law” and ICARS: International Coalition Against Restraint And Seclusion

ICARS was formed from out of the need to protect our most vulnerable children from the abusive practices of forcible restraint and seclusion, used against them in schools. With what began as a movement in Northern Ireland and in the U.K., ICARS has now become a global coalition of advocates acting in concert to pass laws that insure the safety and dignity of children labelled as “special needs”.

In 2018, out of frustration and fear for the safety of vulnerable children, a volunteer group of parents formed ICARS with the intent to campaign for legislation that will provide clear rules about appropriate discipline and treatment of children in school environments, create means for effective oversight of such guidelines, and insists upon accountability for violating the fundamental human rights of vulnerable students. The goal is to institute worldwide protections for our children to keep them from the damage and trauma of restraints, seclusion, neglect, and inappropriate discipline when they are in school.

The first step in achieving that goal is to see the successful passage of Harry’s Law in Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K., which has, as its primary goal, mandatory reporting of restraints and isolation of a child to parents and the Education Authority. As of this writing, the measure for Harry’s Law has passed and the law itself can now be written.

Campaigners for change and reform are demanding:

  • Mandatory requirements for all schools to record any use of restrictive interventions whether physical, mechanical, use of seclusion, medication or blanket restrictions.
  • Mandatory reporting to parents/guardians and the Education Authority, to be jointly signed by parents and schools.
  • Mandatory training for all teachers who use restrictive interventions with external scrutiny, including a clear definition of what is a ‘last resort’ and regulation as to its use.
  • Mandatory inclusion of Positive Behaviour Support in any training for teachers working with children with disabilities.
  • Positive Behaviour Support to be understood as not simply a therapeutic intervention but a framework designed to help school leaders use a multi-tiered approach to social, emotional and behavioural support within any learning environment.
  • Statutory requirement for the Department of Education and Education Authority to implement the Children (NI) Order 1995 and its core principles in all schools.
  • Statutory duty for Social Workers to investigate any parental concerns in schools as per their responsibility and work in partnership with Education Welfare Officers.
  • Legislate for Duty of Candour to improve standards into all public sectors.
  • Standardised and regulated policies and guidance for all schools which are openly shared with parents/carers.
  • Greater accountability when children are deemed to be harmed by staff in schools, including the Board of Governors and/or Local Authority Education Department officials to be held accountable when they neglect their duty of care and the responsibility to safeguard children.

Harry’s Law has garnered much public support, including that of Paris Hilton, who declared herself to be “a survivor of restraint and seclusion,” in a tweet posted February 23, 2021. Hilton stated explicit support for ICARS and appealed to the Northern Ireland Assembly “to uphold Article 2,3,4 & 28 of UNCRC [and] pass Harry’s Law,” in order to provide “meaningful protections” for children in educational settings.

With the successful (and we hope, inevitable) passage of the very first human rights law (as opposed to civil rights law) to be passed, anywhere, Harry’s Law will set a precedent for similar legislation, globally, with The United Nations Declaration Of The Rights Of The Child as a guiding principle in the formation of those protective laws.

The impact of this campaign cannot be overstated.

ICARS is leading the way to a better, safer future for our most vulnerable children, in the U.K. and far, far beyond. This global crisis can be resolved. With Harry’s Law moving forward in the legislative process, we are one step closer to realizing that goal.