Ofsted’s concerns over kids’ home

MANAGERS at a north Northumberland children’s home could face disciplinary action, following a highly-critical Ofsted inspection and an internal investigation by council chiefs.

Thornbrae, on Alnmouth Road in Alnwick, was given an ‘inadequate’ rating – the lowest possible – by the children’s services watchdog in July, after failing to meet the minimum standards expected in a number of key areas.

But the county council-run home – which takes youngsters with ‘complex emotional needs’ aged between six and 12 years – had also come under scrutiny from councillors that same month, when a report raised concerns over the unusually high number of times children were being physically restrained by staff.

Figures released to the Gazette at the time showed there had been 76 incidents involving hands-on intervention in a three-month period, ranging from ‘low-level’ diversionary methods to full ‘prone restraint’, where a child is placed on the floor.

Then, there were six children living at Thornbrae.

The council has since carried out its own review, independent of Ofsted’s concerns, and an interim management team has been appointed at the home.

A spokeswoman for Northumberland County Council said: “The review of Thornbrae has now been completed and a number of changes made to the working practices within the home.

“Furthermore, a number of staffing issues are being progressed and an interim management team is supporting the ongoing changes and development of staff within the unit. All of the recommendations set out in the Ofsted letter have now been actioned.”

But she added: “An ongoing investigation is being conducted into the management of the unit with a view to determining whether capability or disciplinary action is appropriate.”

While the quality of care was said to be satisfactory, Ofsted reported that the regime at Thornbrae was inadequate at keeping children and young people safe and feeling safe.

The report stated: “Restraints are being used very regularly by the staff at the home during confrontations with young people or in response to potentially violent behaviour. The arrangements to de-escalate conflicts are not used effectively and this means that relationships within the home are often difficult.”

Ofsted also criticised Thornbrae’s staff for failing to keep proper records – vital for demonstrating the appropriateness of the use of restraint – stating that the logbook was not always completed fully within the required timescales, to demonstrate that each restraint had been reviewed and confirmed to have been appropriate.

It noted: “This means that children are not protected effectively.”

The report then goes on to rate leadership and management as inadequate, stating: “There is a system in place to ensure that any significant events occurring at the home are reported to the appropriate authorities. However, these arrangements have not been followed on each occasion.

“One action and one recommendation were made at the previous inspection visit. Neither of these has been implemented by the manager and staff team. This contributes to the arrangements to keep children and young people safe and feeling safe being inadequate.”

Ofsted made five recommendations, including ensuring that methods to de-escalate confrontations or potentially violent behaviour are used wherever appropriate to avoid the use of physical restraint and that records are properly maintained.