Urgent action to protect children with disabilities from abuse

A national review of the protection of children with disabilities and complex health needs revealed serious failures at 3 special boarding schools registered as children’s homes. The independent review examines the experiences of 108 children and young adults living in Fullerton House, Wilsic Hall and Wheatley House, located in Doncaster and operated by the Hesley Group.

The report shows a culture of abuse and harm, including evidence of physical abuse and violence, neglect, emotional abuse and sexual harm. There was also evidence of misuse and misadministration of medication, overuse of restraints, and unsafe and inappropriate use of temporary seclusion. The children involved have been placed in these homes by 55 local authorities across the country and a complex investigation into the abuse is underway by the Doncaster Safeguarding Partnership, which includes a simultaneous criminal investigation by South Yorkshire Police.

Given the seriousness of the allegations and the evidence uncovered, the Child Protection Practices Review Committee has launched urgent action to all local authorities to ensure that all children with complex needs and disabilities currently living in similar children’s homes are safe and healthy.

Panel chair Annie Hudson said:

This national study seeks to understand how and why a significant number of children with disabilities and complex needs were victims of very serious abuse and neglect while living in 3 private residential facilities.

Our evidence shows that the system of checks and balances that should have detected that things were going wrong just didn’t work.

Although there are many qualified professionals who work with children with disabilities, we are concerned that these are not isolated incidents. That’s why we’ve called on all local authorities and Ofsted to take urgent action to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all children living in similar circumstances.

The lead member of the review committee, Dr Susan Tranter, said:

Children with disabilities and complex health needs are among the most vulnerable in our society, yet they are too often neglected and forgotten.

Following allegations that a significant number of children who lived away from home, often with limited communication skills, were trapped in environments where systemic and sustained abuse was inflicted relentlessly, we spoke to officials placement of children in these settings and to check on their well-being to understand exactly what was wrong.

It is clear to us that the standards of care practice do not meet the needs of children with complex needs. The second phase of this national review will explore systemic issues in social care, health and education of children that need to be addressed to ensure we learn from these horrific incidents and to prevent them from happening again.

Dame Christine Lenehan, Strategic Director of the National Bureau for Children and the Council for Children with Disabilities, said:

This review demonstrates that the residential settings responsible for the care of these children did not have a clear vision to protect them from abuse. Lack of accountability across the residential care system means there is too little care for the safety of children with complex needs and as a result many have suffered, or are at risk of suffering, harm and abuse. We urgently need a change of mentality, so that the rights of these children to live safely in homes of support and education are guaranteed.

While the complex abuse investigation will hold to account those directly involved in the harm to these children, the national review found that the safety net that should have identified and responded to this abuse has failed to follow through. to concerns.

The first phase report says Ofsted had received a number of complaints dating back to at least 2015, raising concerns about staffing levels, staff conduct and possible child abuse. These complaints had prompted further monitoring visits and an emergency inspection, but the review found these to be insufficient as both metrics had been rated ‘good’ by Ofsted during the last inspection visit. In light of the most recent allegations, Ofsted carried out emergency metrics inspections in March 2021 and service suspension notices have been served.

Additionally, local authorities and partner agencies who place children in these homes rely heavily on reports provided by facilities, although professionals in different roles have separate information indicating concerns. The processes in place to collate information from various sources to analyze the pattern of safeguarding concerns were not effective.

To address this, the panel called on local authorities and Ofsted to take urgent action:

  • local authorities should review labor complaints and concerns at each special boarding school registered as a children’s home over the past three years, and ensure that they have been addressed appropriately
  • OFSTED should undertake an immediate analysis of its evidence on workforce adequacy focusing on suitability, training and support

The panel was assured that Urgent Actions will be completed by the end of November 2022. A second phase of this review will be released in early 2023, outlining progress against Urgent Actions and providing recommendations to the Government to improve the protection in the residential special school and care system.

Notes to editors

The Independent National Child Protection Practices Review Board is an independent body that was established in July 2018 to identify, commission and oversee reviews of serious child protection cases. It brings together experts from social care, police, health, education and the third sector to provide a multi-agency view on cases they believe raise complex issues or are of national importance. .

On March 5, 2021, the Doncaster Safeguarding Partnership agreed to open a complex investigation into abuse (Operation Lemur Alpha) at the 3 specialist residential facilities run by the Hesley Group. This was in response to information gathered following a tip of 12 allegations of child abuse and concerns about children at Fullerton House, which was received by Doncaster Children Services Trust on February 26, 2021. full details of the criminal investigation should be forwarded to South Yorkshire. The police and wider complex abuse investigation should be referred to Doncaster Council – contact details available on request.

These issues were formally reported by the Doncaster Safeguarding Partnership to the Child Protection Practice Review Committee in September 2021. The review was formally launched in January 2022. The Terms of Reference of the Child Protection Practices Review Committee: Review of Protection of Children with Disabilities and Complex Health Needs in Residential Settings is available on GOV.UK. The panel worked closely with Doncaster Safeguarding Partners to deliver this phase one review report.

All families who have concerns about a child can find more information on the Council for Children with Disabilities website.

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