Services at ‘inadequate’ children’s home suspended

West Sussex County Council SUS-160531-124255001
West Sussex County Council SUS-160531-124255001

Residents of a children’s home in West Sussex have been moved out after inspectors issued a registration suspension notice.

Ofsted gave the Seaside Children’s Home in Shoreham an ‘inadequate’ rating after a full inspection in June, then found not enough improvements had been made at a follow-up visit last week.

Children at the home have been found alternative accommodation and no new placements will be made there for the foreseeable future.

Following the inspection results West Sussex County Council carried out a review of all its other children’s homes resulting in the authority withdrawing services and temporarily suspending placements at two other homes.

The provision of respite care has been ceased at another for the foreseeable future.

Children living at these homes are being found alternative accommodation.

The county council says it is satisfied the level of care at the other homes in the county are of a good standard.

Louise Goldsmith, leader of the county council, said: “Our priority is the welfare of the children in our care and we take Ofsted’s findings very seriously. Obviously, I am disappointed by the report but we accept the findings.

“We have taken the initiative and where we haven’t been satisfied by the standards of care, we have taken the necessary and appropriate action.

“The children in West Sussex will always come first and we are now working hard to raise standards so that we have a consistently high level of care across the county.

“I am sorry for the disruption these decisions have had on the children in our care and their families.”

Residential children’s homes accommodate children with a range of complex needs including behavioural, emotional, physical and learning difficulties.

Seaside is registered to provide care and accommodation for up to six children and aims to supports those who have had difficult experiences, many of whom have experienced significant trauma and attachment difficulties.

According to the report into Seaside: “There are serious and widespread failures that mean children and young people are not protected or their welfare is not promoted or safeguarded and the care and experiences of children and young people are poor and they are not making progress.”

The inspectors added: “Significant concerns relating to the protection of children and the effectiveness of leaders and managers were identified at this inspection.

“Due to the serious nature of these concerns, Ofsted will issue a restriction of accommodation notice and two compliance notices.”

Ofsted found:

• Problems with the admissions process. One child had moved in recently having a ‘highly negative effect on the other children’. Staff have not been able to ensure that positive relationships are maintained in the group of children.

• Managers and staff had failed to ensure children are protected from harm, with strategies weak and ineffectual. A lack of safeguarding knowledge resulted in a failure to implement basic safety measures. A deputy manager expressed the view that it could not have been anticipated two children had the potential to harm one another, despite there being significant background information to suggest otherwise.

• Arrangements for supervising children was found to be weak as managers did not take steps to ensure waking night member of staff could consistently observe children leaving their bedrooms at night until a month after there was an alleged incident.

• Managers and staff did not consistently follow agreed child protection protocols and policies.

• Leadership and management of the home was identified as weak. Pre-admission assessments did not convey the rationale for accepting a child or how the home would meet the child’s needs.

• There has been a high turnover of staff since the last full inspection in June 2017. During this period eight members of staff had left, while five had joined. At the time of the inspection there were seven staff vacancies. Agency and bank staff were frequently used to cover staff shortages, with inconsistency in staffing having a destablising effect on some children.

• Staff were seen to interact positively with children during the inspection and children spoke positively about staff. But on one occasion a member of staff did not respond positively to a child who made contact after being reported missing. Inspectors said the approach taken by the member of staff was unlikely to have encouraged this vulnerable child to return to the home, particularly as they had only been recently admitted against their wishes.

Mrs Goldsmith described the report as ‘very upsetting’, but added: “The most important thing is what are we going to do and action needed to be taken swiftly and that’s exactly what we did.”

She said they were doing everything they could to minimise disruption for the children affected.

She added: “I’m very sorry about it but we will do everything in our power to move the service on so when they are back or new people are in we will not see a repeat of what has happened.”

She also thanked staff working in children’s homes for doing a terrific job, but described how recruitment was a ‘big issue’.

Mrs Goldsmith said the council would now be working to ensure all practices and standards are correct across all its children’s services.

While problems had been found at three of the council’s six children’s homes, standards at the other three were good with one rated ‘outstanding’.

Part of future work would look at why there was such a difference in standards across the six homes.

Stephen Hillier has been relived of his duties as cabinet member for children and young people, but Mrs Goldsmith declined to comment when asked directly if this decision was linked to the problems uncovered at the children’s homes.

But she did explain how a summer cabinet reshuffle had always been planned as in the autumn the council would be entering a ‘challenging budget phase’ and she wanted to give new members time to get up to speed before then.

Paul Marshall is taking over from Mr Hillier, while Roger Elkins becomes the new cabinet member for highways and infrastructure, succeeding Bob Lanzer.

Mr Lanzer will head up the reinstated corporate relations portfolio.

In a statement Mr Hillier said: “I am obviously intensely dismayed at the turn of events this week in relation to my role. However, the most important dynamic in this is for all of us, from local authorities to residents and even the media, to do the very best for the families, children and young people of West Sussex.

“In relation to the leader’s decision, I have to own up to the fact that I was culpable in two regards; I omitted to inform her and Cabinet colleagues of the original OFSTED report; and that I trusted that the sound corrective measures, approved by OFSTED, were being undertaken, my role being more one of political and policy leadership, not operational.

“Having had the privilege of politically leading our children’s services for just over two years I know that the commitment of the whole council, from members to the officers, to doing the very best possible is absolute and something that all should be proud of. There are many areas of the service that West Sussex is leading the way in nationally and the striving for improvement is steadfast.

“However, as those who follow these things will know, in West Sussex as in all over the UK, there is a relentless increase in demand and complexity facing children’s services and our resources are deeply stretched. It is therefore behoven upon all of us to support those carrying out this important and very difficult work, and to be careful about being rashly judgemental, particularly of our amazing frontline workers, in the sadly inevitable occasions where something goes wrong.

“Finally, I would like to thank my Member colleagues and the officer team at West Sussex for the very kind messages expressing surprise and support that I have received. They are much appreciated and help to remind me that I committed myself fully and passionately to the role I had. I do, of course, wish my successor all the very best in the role and he has my full support in any way that he requires it.”