Revealed: scandal of private homes for ‘inadequate’ children in England | Children

More than 100 private children’s homes in England with serious shortcomings have been deemed inadequate by inspectors, with several having links to private equity firms, a Observer investigation found.

Poorly trained staff, chaotic management and a series of incidents that put children’s safety at risk have been cited in official reports from Ofsted, which inspects children’s homes, as it concluded they were providing inadequate care. Several have closed since inspectors raised concerns.

The Observer looked at the most recent Ofsted inspection of private children’s homes. It revealed that 114 homes had received the lowest ‘insufficient’ rating, triggering further investigations. Of these, about 20 were run by private equity-related providers. It comes amid continued frustration over the ‘broken’ provision of child care homes.

Private companies now play a significant role in providing care, with more than three-quarters of homes in England run by the sector in 2021. Local government figures have also underlined the growing role of private equity, warning that continued profits and the debt that may follow is not a solid basis on which to run care homes.

Anntoinette Bramble, Chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People’s Council, said: “The Competition and Markets Authority has confirmed our own findings that private equity providers make extremely high profits and carry worrying levels of debt that jeopardize the stability of homes for children in care, which is essential for their development.

Graphite Capital, which owns a stake in restaurant chain Hawksmoor, currently owns a stake in three companies that ran six houses with inadequate ratings. All have closed since their inspection, two before Graphite took a stake in the company concerned.

At one of the properties managed by Compass Children’s Homes, a staff member failed to share a plan for an “important visit” for a child and siblings. “As a result, the child missed seeing all of his siblings together before some went up for adoption,” the inspectors found. Their report states that the deficiencies “compromise children’s physical and emotional health”.

At another facility run by a Horizon Care Group provider, inspectors found children living in an ‘unsafe environment’, prompting an environmental health investigation. They found that when a child told staff that he had self-harmed, “the staff did not ask further questions about it nor did they find out if the child needed care. medical”. Horizon has public contracts with two councils worth £1million, according to Tussell, who tracks public contracts.

A spokeswoman for Graphite Capital said its ownership had no bearing on the decision to close any of the homes. She said Compass and Horizon had above-average Ofsted ratings among all the homes they managed and “far exceeded industry standards” with investment in graphite enabling companies to improve their homes.

Aspris, part-owned by Waterland Private Equity, has two houses with significant defects which have been given the lowest possible rating by Ofsted, while an inadequate third house has closed. In one of the homes, run by Progress Care and Education Ltd, inspectors found that a child had been physically restrained from leaving his room, but “the records of this incident did not demonstrate that this restraint was necessary or proportionate”. He adds: “Furthermore, the continuity of care for children has been significantly affected by high utilization of agency staff and a high number of staff absences. For example, in one week in March 2022, 15 different agency members worked from home.

A spokesperson for Aspris said: ‘We currently have two residential children’s homes classified as ‘unsuitable’, a figure which will be reduced to shortly after a recent re-inspection. By comparison, nine of our homes are currently classified as ‘exceptional’ by Ofsted. We are confident that the level of service provided to the people we care for is not affected by our ownership agreements. »

Ardenton Capital has a stake in companies that manage two inadequate housing units. In one, run by Radical Services Ltd, inspectors said: “The garden is littered with cigarette butts and rubbish waiting to be taken to the landfill, and is overgrown and neglected. The interior decoration is not at the top, especially in the child’s room. The house, whose ultimate owner is now Pebbles, is closed after discussions with Ofsted. Michael Walsh, Managing Director of Pebbles, said: “Our owner Ardenton has always said and continues to say, ‘What do we need to do to better provide the care children need? As long as investors have this long-term approach, with children at the heart of everything, then I think there is a place for this type of owner in our sector.

Josh MacAlister, who chaired a government-backed independent review into child welfare, called for a “complete system reset” to create regional bodies to oversee and build the children’s homes that are needed. “Children’s homes provide a safe haven for some of our most vulnerable children and many of the staff who work in these homes go above and beyond,” he said. “However, the review revealed that the childcare ‘market’ is broken. Profiteering, children being displaced from their communities, and the shortage of homes that meet children’s needs are all pressing issues that need to be addressed.

A spokeswoman for Graphite Capital said private services generally cost local authorities no more than they would pay for residential care. “Without the private sector investing in new capacity, there would be nowhere to go for children and young people in need of residential care.”

The Observer analyzed the most recent inspection data for every private children’s home in England, including those that subsequently closed on June 14.

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