By Charlotte Green – Local Democracy Reporter
A CARE home where children set a bedroom on fire, use cannabis and demonstrate ‘extreme aggression’ when demanding pocket money from staff has been criticised by inspectors.
OldhamOfsted carried out an ‘urgent monitoring inspection’ of a facility in Oldham and identified a series of ‘poor practices’ around the care being provided in a damning report.
The visit was prompted by a safeguarding notification which alerted the watchdog to a fire which had been ‘deliberately started’ by two children in a bedroom on June 5.
Social care regulatory inspector Maria McGranaghan stated that the location of the children’s home – which is not publicly available – was a source of risk to youngsters living there as it ‘lends itself to swift and easy access to illicit substances’.
“Therefore, vulnerable children are easily coerced by peers to continue their use of cannabis, placing them at risk of harm,” she wrote.
“There is a significant lack of urgency in addressing behaviours relating to the use of cannabis.”
Staff also lack ‘effective strategies’ to minimise risk and support children to understand ‘safe and acceptable behaviours’, according to the watchdog.
Ofsted states that in addition to their weekly pocket money, children can earn up to £33 a week for the completion of daily tasks and maintaining ‘appropriate behaviour’.
“However, children are given their daily incentive even when their behaviour has not warranted this,” Ms McGranaghan said.
“This is because staff are unable to manage the explosive behaviours of children if they are not given their financial reward.
“Records demonstrate that since January 2020 there have been 17 episodes of extreme aggression, violence and damage when children have demanded additional finances.”
The risk assessments drawn up fail to provide staff with ‘realistic and individualised strategies’ for managing each child’s risks, such as violent and aggressive behaviours.
The report states that the acting manager said: “‘Children are well built and cannot be managed in a physical intervention without there being a risk to staff.’
“Consequently, there have been a number of physical fights between children, and the home is frequently damaged.”
Since January there have also been 21 incidents when children have been reported as missing from the home.
“Records show that children go missing alone and in groups, leaving the home late in the evening or as a group in the early hours of the morning,” Ms McGranaghan stated.
“Although, in the majority of cases, children return after several hours, staff do not attempt to stop children from leaving the premises.
“The acting manager said, ‘We only have one waking night staff [member]. When children are in groups, it would be too dangerous for staff to intervene.’”
Between July and November last year there were three occasions where physical intervention was carried out.
Ofsted states that on two occasions, children became ‘violent and aggressive’ after being refused additional finances, and on one occasion a child became violent after being asked to ‘bring his crockery downstairs’.
The acting manager stated that using physical intervention became dangerous because ‘children would gang up together’.
In her report Ms McGranaghan wrote: “Therefore, staff were unable to manage the children during incidents that included children fighting, damage to property and stealing personal items.
“The culture of acceptance of such aggressive behaviours has resulted in this children’s home being unable to provide a safe, secure and nurturing environment in accordance with the home’s statement of purpose.”
Following the fire in June, the bedroom was in the process of being redecorated when the visit took place, with a new window due to be fitted.
According to staff at the home, the damage was not ‘extensive’ however a request for photographic evidence showed that there had been ‘substantial damage’ to the bedroom.
Some staff had raised concerns with the manager that they did not know how to use a fire extinguisher, which led to more training being arranged.
The home is registered to provide care for up to seven children, but at the time of the fire, three children were accommodated and just two children remained living there when the inspector visited.
There was a high turnover rate at the home, with eight children being admitted and discharged since July 2019. Placements lasted between one week to four months before coming to an end.
Inspector McGranaghan said that the provider had ‘failed’ to consider the needs of individual children before they were moved into the home, and whether they would be compatible with the group already living there.
“Consequently, children are placed together who have a known history of similar risk-taking behaviours,” she said.
“This includes cannabis misuse, episodes of going missing from care, aggressive and violent behaviours and a number of placement breakdowns.
“As a result, children’s risk-taking behaviours have escalated since they have lived in the home.”
She concluded that outcomes for children living at the home were ‘exceptionally compromised’.
As a result of these findings, Ofsted took the decision to serve two compliance notices under the protection of children standard and the leadership and management standard, alongside a number of requirements on the home.
Both of these notices had to be met by July 30.
A spokesman for the provider of the care home, Cambian Childcare Ltd said: “Since this inspection, the home has a new manager and together with other changes made we expect the concerns highlighted by Ofsted to be addressed.”