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Hesley Group abuse: child safeguarding recommendations

By Kieran Chatteron

The Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel has today made recommendations for children with disabilities and complex health needs who live in residential accommodation.

sad young girl looking through a window

It follows a review in October 2022 about complaints of serious abuse at Fullerton House, Wilsic Hall and Wheatley House, all in Doncaster and run by the Hesley Group. That review found there was ineffective leadership and a culture whereby incidents of abuse were covered up rather than brought to the attention of those responsible for keeping children safe.

Children had been abused in a number of different ways; Vinegar was poured into cuts, educational needs were not met, and black children routinely had their hair shaven. Other examples include physical assaults, sexual abuse and lack of provision of adequate clothing.

Phase 2 of the report has made recommendations including that government departments should work together so that children with disabilities and complex health needs can thrive and be supported to achieve. The specific recommendations made are:

  • the Department for Education and Department of Health and Social Care should develop statutory guidance to require local authorities and integrated care boards (ICBs) to jointly commission safe, sufficient and appropriate provision for children with disabilities and complex health needs
  • the government should commission an integrated strategy for the development of the children’s workforce in residential settings – this should include training on the appropriate use of physical restraints and restrictive interventions and their authorisation
  • the government should ensure all children with disabilities and complex health needs have access to independently commissioned, non-instructed advocacy
  • systems for the early identification of safeguarding risks in residential settings should be strengthened through an enhanced role for host local authorities and ICBs in the oversight of residential settings in their area
  • the Department for Education and Department of Health and Social Care should revise the regulatory framework for residential settings and immediately establish arrangements for joint inspection by Ofsted and CQC of residential settings for children with disabilities and complex health needs
  • national leadership and investment by providers is urgently required to address the longstanding challenges in recruiting, retaining and developing a skilled workforce is residential settings.

The Children’s Commissioner released a statement in which they said that they were profoundly shocked and angered by the allegations of abuse at the Hesley Group homes.

The Commissioner welcomed the report of the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel and the recommendations. While supporting the recommendations the Children’s Commissioner referred the Department for Education improvement plan for Special Educational Needs and Disabilities and Alternative Provision.

Within the response to that plan the Commissioner says that there are serious gaps, particularly concerning support for children with additional needs, which should be addressed urgently. The Commissioner was concerned that much of the plan assumes that children will have familial support and does not consider provision where that is not the case.

It is also said that while the Department for Education identifies a vicious cycle of late intervention, low confidence and inefficient resource allocation, most of the plan will not be delivered until late 2025, so we can expect at least 2 to 3 more years of poor outcomes that lead to reviews of these services in the first place.

It would be easy to see failings such as this in isolation, but sadly they reflect systemic failures of a system that is not providing the oversight and care that vulnerable children should be able to expect. The Director of the Council for Disabled Children notes that we have been here before, and that there have been many reports in the past which have shown how children with complex needs have been locked away with little concern for their quality of life. They said that without wholehearted commitment these failures will happen again.

Switalskis are representing victims and their families concerning the abuse they experienced at Fullerton House and other Hesley Group homes. Anyone that wishes to make a complaint should contact South Yorkshire Police via this link  which provides information on making the Police aware of complaints.

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Kieran has worked in the legal sector for 15 years.  He is a Solicitor in our Child Abuse Compensation team.

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