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Safeguarding children with disabilities in residential settings

Date:12 DEC 2022
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A national review into safeguarding children with disabilities and complex health needs has revealed serious failures at residential special schools registered as children's homes.

This review sets out recommendations and findings for national government and local safeguarding partners to protect children at risk of serious harm. It examines allegations of abuse and neglect to children living in 3 private residential settings located in Doncaster and operated by the Hesley Group.

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Responding to the National Panel’s review on safeguarding children with disabilities and complex health needs in residential settings Steve Crocker, Association of Directors of Children's Services President, said:

“Children that local authorities place in the type of provision offered by the Hesley Group are very vulnerable and have complex disabilities and needs. They deserve to be treated with humanity and dignity at all times. It is clear from this report that a significant number of children were not and this moment must be the catalyst for real change.

“In advance of the report’s publication the National Panel contacted all directors of children’s services to undertake an urgent exercise to assure the safety of children placed in similar settings and this is well underway. Clearly there is more to do and ADCS members stand ready to engage with the next stage of the Panel’s review to ensure that in the future our most vulnerable children are safeguarded and cared for in safe environments and that learning is drawn out for the benefit of children and the system. Consideration of better community alternatives providing high quality care closer to home must be part of the process. For children with very complex health and care needs this provision can only be developed effectively in partnership with health and education partners and through joined up national policy and funding. It is also important to take on board learning from similar issues in closed environments in the adult sector, so future provision should look very different from what we have at the moment. Achieving that ambition will require time, creativity and investment to put in place the services that children need.

“The dangerously dysfunctional culture described in the report is at the heart of this, one where the independent provider deliberately and fraudulently misled authorities and the regulator. In closed or institutionalised settings there is a potential for abuse and harm to flourish, sadly this can happen whether a placement is nearby or at a distance. Furthermore, the pandemic provided extra cover for deliberately deceptive behaviours, with a significant impact on the contact children had with their families and with social workers which can provide opportunities for signs of abuse or harm to be identified. It falls on all safeguarding partners involved in keeping children safe from harm, local authorities, education and health services, to identify risk and challenge such cultures and prevent them from developing in the first place. We are reliant on verifiable and high quality information from providers and the regulator as part of the quality assurance process.

“Everyone who is involved in the system from those commissioning and providing care to individual staff, regulators and others have a role in improving standards of care and safeguarding. We need to work together and do everything we can to assure ourselves, the system and of course parents and carers that children with similar needs and in similar settings are safe, appropriately placed and receiving the high quality care they deserve.”

You can read the report here.