Cambridgeshire County Council suspends admissions to children’s home in March after Ofsted reports youngsters to be at ‘serious risk of harm’

Charity Break runs a children's home in March which has received an inadequate rating by Ofsted. Adm

Charity Break runs a children's home in March which has received an inadequate rating by Ofsted. Admissions to the home by Cambridgeshire County Council have been suspended and will only be re-instated should conditions improve. Picture; BREAK - Credit: Archant

Admissions by Cambridgeshire County Council to a children’s home in March have been suspended following an Ofsted inspection that found “significant shortfalls” in its management that put young people “at serious risk of harm”.

A council spokesman confirmed that the home would not be used again for referrals until it improved.

Ofsted found that the Burrowmoor Road, March, run by charity Break, has "serious failures that mean children are not protected or their welfare is not safeguarded".

The spokesman said: "Break - a charity which runs a number of residential homes across Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Norfolk - is one of a number of providers we approve to receive referrals for children who require this type of placement.

"Following the recent Ofsted inspection (June 2019) we were informed that a four-bedroom children's residential home in March, managed by Break, was judged as 'inadequate'.

"We immediately suspended any new placements here until this situation changes.

"We are working closely with Break to ensure that they make the required improvements to meet the standards we expect and to improve their Ofsted judgement within the required timeframe, and we are confident that they will do this."

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Rachel Cowdry, interim chief executive officer at Break, said: "We wholly regret that our care fell below the high standard we expect at Break.

She said that in this instance "the care we offered fell short of what young people deserve.

"We are working hard with our placing authorities and addressing the identified areas for improvement. We are reviewing all policies and processes within the home and implementing changes in all areas of our practice."

Included in the Ofsted report is the reference to an agency worker's inexperienced response that led to a child who produced a knife at the home spending the night police cells.

Ofsted says the agency staff member followed a child out of the house "and the child produced a knife.

"The shift leader provided clear advice to the agency staff which they ignored.

"This resulted in the child removing the staff member's phone and keeping the knife. The staff felt that due to the unknown location of the knife it was unsafe for the child to return to the home.

"The police kept the child in custody overnight - this incident placed all the children at risk."

Ofsted concluded: "There are significant shortfalls in the day-to-day management and maintenance of the physical environment. These shortfalls have placed the children at serious risk of harm".

Ofsted believes use of agency staff has resulted in serious incidents because of an "inconsistent and inexperienced" approach to the children.

At the home, that was inspected over two days at the end of June, children "experienced fear, uncertainty and instability as a consequence of poor matching and decision making on admission".

Pre-admission assessments failed to consider the risks of the group dynamics and the manager's concerns borne out "with a series of incidents of increasing severity"

Ofsted social care inspector Deirdra Keating said: "These incidents have been detrimental to children's well being and left them at risk."

One child told inspectors: "It's so unpredictable. I just don't know what is going to happen next. I don't want to stay here at the moment".

Although Ofsted notes some of the home's successes, the inspector pointed out that one child had been temporarily excluded from school following recent incidents at the home.

Unexplained by Ofsted is how significant damage to the kitchen "resulted in children being taken to the office by the staff to avoid flying glass".

The report says: "Food and consumables have been thrown over the floor and walls. Dry foods have been contaminated and spoilt."

Ofsted singled out a child at high risk of self-injury who spends "significant time" in their bedroom alone.

"The bedroom is in an unsafe, unacceptable condition," says the report. "It contains rubble, glass, shards of mirror, a lighter, smoking debris and dirty plates and cups.

"The window is boarded up and the furniture is broken. The room is dirty and contains items that pose a serious risk to the child."

Staff had "failed to provide a safe or clean environment for the child".

Ofsted found a child who has expressed thoughts of suicide to a member of staff but with the risk assessment not updated it was unclear whether the child had been offered support.

Other incidents noted were of a child physically assaulted in an unprovoked attack by another child, significant damage and breakages, and dangerous and hot items thrown by children.

Break says on its website that the March home provides care for up to four children up to the age of 18.

"The children who come to Burrowmoor Road will have experienced neglect, abuse or trauma along with family and placement breakdowns," says Break.

"They are likely to have difficulty with attachment relationships and have developed difficult or challenging patterns of behaviour".

Ms Cowdry said: We have a track record of outstanding services across the region that evidences the positive impact our care has on young people.

"Break is a learning organisation dedicated to striving for excellence, improving outcomes for young people and we are using our 50 years of experience to ensure the improvement journey is swift and sustained.

"As the CEO, I take full responsibility for all of our services and as Burrowmoor Road has fallen below our expected high standards I will personally oversee the service improvements.

"I am confident that this home will evidence significant progress by the next Ofsted inspection."