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Tuesday, 07 January 2014

Devon residential home at centre of abuse probe to remain closed

Written by The Editorial Team

A residential home whose residents were alleged victims of sexual abuse will remain closed while the county council considers the future of care services across Devon.

Admissions to Birchen Lane care home, in Tiverton, were suspended in May after girls were reportedly supplied alcohol and propositioned by men away from the site.

Devon County Council’s cabinet has been asked to agree to a consultation with staff, health services, police and care home providers on the future of ‘in-house’ residential accommodation for children and young people.

There are no allegations that staff at Birchen Lane took part in any abuse, but it is one of three ‘open homes’ for young people being scrutinised following Ofsted’s proposals for tougher guidelines to improve standards for vulnerable children.

A report by Malcolm Vede, head of social care provision at Devon County Hall, states: “The inspectorate is making its registration, inspection and enforcement practice of children’s homes more robust, challenging and effective in parallel with the programme of regulatory reform proposed by the Department for Education. The new framework is integral to those reforms and is open for consultation.

“In May 2013, a series of safeguarding alerts were triggered regarding young people in the home and the risks outside of the unit of child sexual exploitation, given their vulnerability. As a result, and following a strategy meeting involving our key stakeholders, a decision was taken to suspend further placements to the home, source alternative placements for the three young people and to relocate staff.”

The council’s decision was explained to Ofsted which raised “critical concerns” regarding its ‘open homes’ which related to the size of the units, bed numbers and their institutional environments.

The report added: “Ofsted commented at that time that they were now generally inspecting homes that were much smaller in size with a maximum of three beds. Placements to Birchen Lane will continue to be suspended pending a strategic review that has been commissioned in respect of all of our children’s residential care settings and accommodation services.”

In June 2013, an organisation undertook a review of in-house children’s homes and any recommendations will influence the “future strategic direction” taken by the council in regards to in-house children’s homes.

The cabinet member responsible for children’s services, Councillor Will Mumford, said: “We need to make sure we are providing the best care possible for these young people, who are among the most vulnerable we look after.

“We have already commissioned a review of our homes from a specialist external organisation which has now made a number of recommendations.

“Since placements were suspended at Birchen Road and Rifford Road, some of the young people who would have been there have been looked after by specialist foster carers.

“We’ve been able to work with our child, adolescent and mental health teams to ensure they are getting individual care, shaped to their specific needs. We are currently reorganising our foster service so we will have a greater range of foster carers able to look after children with the most challenging behaviour.

“This is likely to reduce the need for places in children’s homes.”