A NORTHERN Ireland children’s home is at the centre of a police and health service investigation after child protection concerns were raised by a whistleblower.
The PSNI has confirmed that an inter-agency investigation is under way regarding allegations concerning a care facility in Co Antrim.
A PSNI spokesman said: “This is in accordance with Article 66 of the Children (NI) Order 1995 and Regional Child Protection Policies and Procedures.
“This is at a very early stage and as such it would be inappropriate to comment further.”
The Detail is not naming the home or its location to protect the confidentiality of the small number of young people who were resident in the home at the time the allegations were made.
We also are not naming the private care provider business which runs the home as this also may lead to identification of the children.
Exact details of the allegations being investigated have not been disclosed but The Detail has learned that concerns had already been raised about high staff turnover and “tired and exhausted” staff following an unannounced inspection in July of this year.
The home was inspected again last month but this report – which may include the allegations currently being investigated – will not be completed until November.
The private company running the home told The Detail that the facility has not closed down but would not confirm or deny if children are still being cared for there. It also would not tell us how many staff were employed at the home.
A spokeswoman for the company said: “We have not closed any of our services in Northern Ireland.
“Concerns have been brought to our attention, which as a responsible care provider we are looking into in line with our robust policies and procedures.
“We are working closely with the relevant authorities. Nothing has yet been proven.
“The police were involved in the initial strategy meeting and we would expect them to monitor progress. We are not aware of a separate criminal investigation into any of these matters.
“We care for some of the most vulnerable children in Northern Ireland and are justifiably proud of the many positive outcomes achieved.”
A spokeswoman for the Northern Health and Social Care Trust said: “We understand this is under PSNI investigation and cannot comment further at this stage.”THE INSPECTION
There are currently 52 children’s homes across Northern Ireland.
The Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority has a statutory responsibility to inspect every children’s home at least twice a year.
RQIA provided us with a copy of the report produced following the unannounced inspection at the children’s home currently being investigated on July 3 and the associated quality improvement plan.
The report was redacted by RQIA to remove references to the home’s name, location and any identifying information about the children.
The private home is described as operating “a structured and therapeutic residential service for young people aged between 12 and 18 years.”
The report states: “This inspection was unscheduled and unannounced. It was undertaken as a result of issues raised with RQIA in a whistleblowing phone call. These issues focused on staffing and the standard of care provided in the home and the quality of the living environment.”
Following the July inspection, three requirements were made in a quality improvement plan. These refer to the impact on continuity of care for young people due to the high turnover of staff and the requirement to ensure adequate staffing levels and necessary access to required records for inspection purposes.
The report includes a reference to a previous inspection in April/May 2012 when the issue of excessive hours being worked by staff was highlighted too.
The July report said: “The inspection discussed current staffing matters with the registered manager. Information was shared that since February 2012 five staff members had resigned. Additionally, of three staff then recruited, none had remained in post.”
Exit interviews with these staff members found that they left because of better terms and conditions offered in health and social care trusts with access to training, professional development and increased job security.
The inspection report continues: “Staff morale was described to the inspector as being low with staff being tired and exhausted. This was attributed to staffing difficulties, long hours and the continual challenge of confronting concerning, high risk behaviours.”
The registered manager said that the team was supported through monthly supervision but could not provide the supervision records because the key to the cabinet in which they were held was not available. It is a requirement for statutory records to be available at all times for inspection purposes.
The chief concerns raised during the July inspection were:
• The high level of staff turnover in this home and difficulties retaining staff.
• Excessive hours being worked by staff.
• Impact of the excessive hours being worked by the registered manager on her managerial responsibilities.
• Poor staff morale.
The home itself was described in the report as “warm, clean and tidy”.
A Quality Improvement Plan included with the report and dated August 24 outlined the action required to ensure compliance with the legislation and improvement in the quality of the service.
The requirements include that the registered person must ensure that the home’s core staff “is sufficient with regard to qualifications, competence and experience and that the home’s roster ensures continuity of care and stability for young people”. Statutory records must be available at all times for inspection.