Concerns over 'dangerous items' and physical restraint at children's secure unit

July 07 2021
Concerns over 'dangerous items' and physical restraint at children's secure unit

SCAFFOLDING poles and other objects that “could be used as weapons” were found lying around by inspectors at a young offenders’ unit run by South Gloucestershire Council.

Education watchdog Ofsted raised “significant safeguarding concerns” over issues including the use of physical restraint at Vinney Green secure children’s home in Emersons Green.

The inspectors' concerns were so serious that inspectors demanded that South Gloucestershire Council, which runs the unit, take "rapid action" to protect children there from the risk of harm.

Their report from the first inspection, in April, found there were “serious failures that mean children are not protected or their welfare is not promoted or safeguarded”.

Ofsted gave the lowest overall rating of “inadequate” to the unit, although they deemed children’s education and learning and their health to be “good”.

The report said: “Dangerous items had accumulated over time in the forest area and outside the cycle maintenance workshop.

These items were accessible to children and included scaffolding poles and pieces of wood and metal.

These could be used as weapons and therefore pose a significant risk to the children and the staff.

Although these items were removed during the visit, it is of serious concern that this risk was not identified by the home’s staff or managers.”

Ofsted said concerns raised by youngsters on two occasions about staff practice had been acted on but the manager had failed to notify Ofsted about them.

The report said: “The staff have implemented a behaviour management strategy following advice from the home’s psychologist.

The staff and the managers responsible for monitoring physical interventions failed to consider that this strategy resulted in using a restraint to gain compliance.

On another occasion, the threshold for the use of physical restraint was not justified.

Despite this, there has been a reduction in the use of physical restraints. 

The children’s behaviour has improved. However, the staff use sanctions that do not link meaningfully to the incident and therefore do not support restorative practice.

On one occasion, a child was subject to single separation as a means to manage a concern that the child may have glass.

The single-separation record failed to clearly identify the rationale for this approach over a 24-hour period.”

It said the manager’s monitoring and oversight failed to identify the serious shortfalls found at the inspection and there were times when the children were not safeguarded and were at risk.

Ofsted’s returned to reinspect the unit, home to 24 of the country’s most troubled youngsters aged 10 to 18, in early June.

Its report found that both the overall experiences and progress of young people and how well they were helped and protected had been turned around from inadequate to good, although managers’ effectiveness still required improvements. 

The report said: “At the last inspection, the home was judged inadequate, despite several areas of good practice.

The significant concerns identified included the use of physical intervention for compliance, hazardous items in the grounds and a failure to report two safeguarding allegations to the designated officer and to Ofsted.

Suitable action has been taken to meet both of the compliance notices.

External areas of the home are clear of hazards and no physical interventions have been undertaken for compliance reasons.”

It said the children were positive about their experiences of living at the home, felt well supported and safe, and had “trusting relationships” with staff.

A South Gloucestershire Council spokesperson said: “The initial inspection of Vinney Green in April showed that our health and education and learning support for the children there were good, reflecting significant progress since the previous inspection and which were talked about positively by the young people the inspectors spoke to.

However, that report also flagged a number of issues where we needed to take rapid action to protect children in our care from the risk of harm and we fully accepted those findings.

Thanks to the constructive way that we can work with Ofsted and our whole staff team, as well as with partners in and supporting the home, the improvements required were clear.

We have been able to take swift action to improve in the areas identified.

We are very pleased that this work was recognised when Ofsted reinspected those areas in June.

Our absolute priority in caring for the children is their welfare and safety.

We note that while Ofsted highlighted a risk of potential harm in their first report this year, none of the children did suffer harm, but their findings have helped us identify the steps we needed to take to further reduce risks.

We are committed to ongoing improvement, whatever Ofsted finds when they inspect, because that is what we need to provide for the children and young people in our care.

While our efforts to further strengthen the performance of the home continue, we are working with a staff team who spoke to Ofsted positively about the improvements we have made together in recent months and years.

We were also most pleased to see in the reports the recognition of the importance of the children’s own words, which described how they feel supported and well cared for.

We are also pleased by the recognition of the positive approach we take, and the results achieved by the children in terms of their learning health and wellbeing, to ensure they leave with the absolute best prospects for the future.”

By Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporting Service