Closed Cultures

Dame Christine Lenehan, Director at the National Children’s Bureau and Council for Disabled Children, and one of the Review’s leading members, said:

“The appalling harm these children suffered was a result of grievous failures in both their day-to-day care, and within the system of oversight that should have guaranteed their welfare.

“We’ve been here before. Earlier reports have catalogued how disabled children with a complex mix of autism and health needs can be locked away behind closed doors, often in placements far from their families, with little concern for their quality of life or futures.

“These recommendations set out a roadmap to more humane treatment of these children. But without the wholehearted commitment to implement these measures fully, these failings will come back to haunt us when the next group of disabled children fall foul of services that cost the taxpayer dearly but rob vulnerable children of their basic humanity.”

In view of the above, we at Willow Tree Children’s Services, we don’t believe in working within closed cultures.

By a closed culture we mean a poor culture that can lead to harm, which can include human rights breaches such as abuse. Closed cultures are dangerous and unacceptable.

To ensure we don’t have or develop a closed culture we always implement best practice, such as:

  • We keep our young people at the centre of what we do.
  • We provide excellent care and support, and we involve our young people and staff in decision making.
  • Listening to people’s voices is very important to us and we encourage this in keywork sessions, 1:1 chats, young people’s meetings, staff meetings, supervisions etc. We request feedback from families and external professionals. We are open to positive and negative feedback and have a willingness to reflect and implement positive changes.
  • There is a strong management team including Directors, Responsible Individual, Registered Manager, Deputy Managers, and we will use an external consultant if the need arises.
  • The management team has a strong presence in the home and available for young people, staff, and the wider network.
  • We work with openness and transparency between managers, staff, young people, and external professionals.
  • Managers lead by example, monitor the systems in place, address issues raised by young people, families, staff, and external professionals. We accept feedback and learn from reflecting.
  • We keep young people’s paperwork up to date; this is to ensure everyone has the most up to date knowledge to work with young people effectively and ensure their needs are being met.
  • Staff have a robust induction and mandatory training plans; we provide additional training and encourage professional development.
  • All staff employed have regular supervisions, a probationary period, and annual appraisals. We discuss good practice and areas to improve upon, give targets to work towards and support staff throughout their employment with us.
  • We have monthly team meetings where we incorporate discussions around the young people, best practice and discuss relevant topics each month.
  • We are regulated by Ofsted and have a Regulation 44 visit monthly to ensure we are compliant with the Children’s Homes Regulations and Quality Standards.
  • We comply with Health and Safety by carrying out daily, weekly, and monthly checks, as well as having external providers come to do specific health and safety audits and tests.
  • Under the Equality Act 2010, we ensure that our young people and staff are not discriminated against based on protected characteristics, such as their gender, ethnicity, religion, or gender identity.

Management Team’s approach to arresting ‘closed cultures’.

Characteristics of staff:

  • Enough or appropriate training and our training matrices evidence this.
  • Young people, their families, local authority staff and regulators having access to professional staff.
  • Endeavours to reduce high staff turnover and reduction of use of agency or bank staff.
  • Reduce the long hours with excessive overtime that staff work.

Management will collate and investigate feedback from staff working in services, ex-staff, people who use the service, family members or visitors:

  • Bullying, cliques, disrespectful language
  • Time spent on unproductive activities such as in staff rooms rather than with young people.
  • Risk of reprisal if ‘speaking up’.
  • Staff encouraged to be anything other than candid about incidents.

Ensure that there are different and meaningful external scrutiny:

  • We ensure that our services are not geographically isolated.
  • We try and ensure as much as possible, our young people are not a long way from home.
  • We ensure that our young people are not isolated from others and have opportunities to have meaningful engagement with local communities.
  • Have multiple commissioners rather than our young people coming from the same local authority.
  • We are always looking for opportunities to get independent advisory services.
  • We ensure that we identify poor reporting of concerns and limited contact from local authority safeguarding teams and address this through training and regular supervision.

Further Reading

Safeguarding children with disabilities and complex health needs in residential settings

Statement on Phase 2 of the review into alleged abuses against disabled children in residential settings

NSPCC Learning

Phase two report published on abuse in residential special schools in Doncaster

Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel publish Phase 2 report into Hesley Group settings