After reports of children being punched, kicked, vinegar poured into cuts over a 3 year period, the regulator, OFFSTED of various Children’s Homes in Doncaster, finally stepped in and closed them down.
Even though over 40 complaints were made, the homes were still rated as “good” by Offsted in March 2021. The BBC in their report claim that over 100 concerns were logged.
Both Offsted and the Hesley Group, who ran the homes have apologised. In a TV News interview, the head of Offsted acknowledged that although the complaints were made, they were not joined up and acted upon quickly enough.
In October 2022, an expert panel said that there had been “systemic and sustained abuse” in the homes. A lack of staffing contributed to the problem.
The BBC Investigation uncovered
- Children Locked in bathrooms overnight
- Children left in soiled clothes.
- Children made to sit in cold baths.
- Children deprived of medication for days.
- An Autistic girl dragged across the floor of a home
- Staff warned for alleged abuse by support workers 3 years before closure yet allowed to carry on.
- A child being fed chilli flakes and being denied water.
- A child receiving a black eye, whilst others were punched and kicked in the stomach.
- A child swung round by the ankles
- A child locked outside in freezing temperatures whilst naked
The documents disclosed to the BBC revealed 105 reports of concern at the homes from early 2018 to spring 2021
Despite the lack of staffing Hesley’s Accounts recorded a 16% profit of £12m for all the sites within the Group, nearly the same level (17%) regarded as “excessive” by a government watchdog. Staff were paid £9.05 per hour in 2020 to look after highly vulnerable and challenging children.
A whistle blower – Cloe Straw recalls a child rubbing washing up liquid all over his arms so that staff couldn’t “grab him”. She also witnessed excessive punishments of children by staff, and children being prevented from leaving bedrooms by staff sitting on chairs blocking doors
Ruby Oades, who is autistic, has epilepsy and learning difficulties, was grabbed the wrist and dragged into her bedroom at Fullerton House. She was hypersensitive to noise, so as a punishment was made to listen to loud music by her “carers” at a previous home.
What did the police do?
Despite complaints being made to the police no prosecutions resulted due to “insufficient evidence” and/or “not enough resources to investigate”. The police did, however, meet with Council staff, and refer the allegations to the local authority.
The allegations are serious enough in themselves, but take on a graver complexion when one considers that the children in the homes were special needs and disabled in different ways eg. Autism, and Epilepsy.
Comment & Apologies
Research by Peter Morris shows that over a quarter of children’s homes placements are owned by private equity firms.
“Regulators allow private equity firms to operate mostly in private, so they’ve got used over the last 40 years to not being held accountable.”
Dr Mark Kerr, deputy CEO of the Children’s Home Association highlighted clear institutional failings by Hesley Group but pessimistically predicts that the problem may not be uncommon:-
“We’ve got record numbers of children in care, a workforce crisis and woefully underfunded local authority services and government regulators.”
Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman said:-
“We acted in response to concerns [but] we worked slower than we should have to recognise the pattern of abuse.”
“It’s hard to recognise which other homes may have similar risks or if there is a deeper management problem,”