Family Fuming After School Staff’s Oversight Allowed 9-Year-Old with Autism to Escape into Street

Leaders of Castle School, a special needs establishment, have apologized after a nine-year-old boy with autism was allowed to escape from the school for about 25 minutes, thanks to mistakes made by staff members.

Daniel Hankin, who has autism and learning disabilities, usually has one-on-one care at school. However, while the staff member assigned to him was distracted by another student, Daniel entered his empty classroom alone and proceeded to the outside door to the playground.

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Two mechanisms on the door failed, allowing Daniel to exit the building, after which he passed through a gate that staff members had left open and left the school grounds through a gap in the outer fence.

Luckily, staff noticed Daniel’s absence right away and called the police. The boy was missing for a total of about 25 minutes before police found him in the street and took him back to the school.

The school, which conducted an internal investigation after the incident, claims no other child has ever managed to escape the school grounds, but that doesn’t change the fear and anger Daniel’s family is now feeling as they try to figure out how all this happened and how to keep it from happening again.

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“It should never have happened. Daniel climbs out of windows and things because he doesn’t understand, it’s not his fault,” says Daniel’s grandmother, 58-year-old Carol Hankin. “We’ve always had to be careful because he runs away, and they’ve known this. From the letter they sent me, they only seem interested in finding excuses. I think it’s neglect on their part, but they are trying to blame the contractors.”

Carol continues, “I don’t know what to do, because it’s the only school for him in the area, and it’s been a brilliant school, it’s got everything the kids need, but the attitude from staff has been a problem. They didn’t ring us until after it had happened, after he was back. We should have been told straight away.”

Photo: Adobe Stock/Nick ALDI

In the wake of the school’s investigation, changes have been made to help ensure it doesn’t happen again. Systems for collecting children in the morning have been improved, more checks on playground gates have been put in place, and new rules have been put in place for contractors working in the school. The school has also reviewed the lock systems on their doors.

A spokesperson for Northumberland Church of England Academy Trust (NCEAT), which runs the school, had this to say about the incident:

“At NCEAT, we take our pupils’ safety and security very seriously. The incident, which took place at Castle School on June 18, 2021, when a pupil was able to leave the school premises unaccompanied, was the first of its kind for Castle School, and we immediately launched a full investigation into how it happened.

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“The pupil was out of school for a period of no longer than 25 minutes before being returned safely and unharmed. The trust, in agreement with Northumbria Police and the Local Authority Designated Officer, conducted a thorough internal investigation to determine how the incident came to pass and ensure any lessons are learnt to prevent anything like this from happening again in the future.

“We are liaising with the child’s family and have apologised for the distress that this event has undoubtedly caused.”

Carol, however, says she still feels anxious about sending Daniel back to school in the fall. “I really did trust them, but now I’m so anxious. My nerves are gone. Every time the phone rings and I see it’s the school, I worry that they’re going to say something has happened again. I’m terrified it could happen to another child. Anything could have happened to him—I could have been planning a funeral.”

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