West Sussex County Council does not know if one of its children’s homes will open again, after it was rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted.
The six-bedroom Seaside Home for Children, in Shoreham, was inspected in June, and ‘serious and widespread failures’ were identified, meaning the children were not protected and their care was poor.
The home was closed after a follow-up inspection in August found not enough had been done to address the issues raised.
At a meeting of the children and young people’s services select committee on September 12, members were told that senior managers had carried out checks at the other homes owned and operated by the council.
As a result, Cissbury Lodge, in Worthing, was temporarily closed, and May House, in Worthing, will be closed and refurbished. In addition, the Beechfield Secure Unit, in Copthorne, was closed for two years.
The condition of the buildings, training and ongoing problems recruiting suitably qualified and experienced staff were among the main issues highlighted.
Annie MacIver, director of children and family services, told the meeting that Beechfield could not be opened until a registered manager had been appointed.
Ms MacIver said she took full responsibility for the inadequate judgement at Seaside, adding: “It’s something that has caused me great consternation and something I have and will continue to take very seriously.”
Speaking about the next steps for Seaside, Ms MacIver told the meeting: “We’ve been asked the question is Seaside going to open again, and my answer to that is I don’t know.
“I know we need good provision for complex adolescents. But for any of you who know the building which is Seaside Home, it’s a building that ultimately is highly institutionalised, and one couldn’t really describe it as being homely.”
The committee was told that more investment was needed in staff as well as the infrastructure and maintenance of the council’s children’s homes.
Ms MacIver told the meeting: “If we’re going to provide really goods homes for our children, we can’t just have a stand-alone children’s home. We have to have mental health provision that’s robust. We have to have education provision that’s robust.”
Paul Marshall, the recently appointed cabinet member for children and young people, described Ofsted’s findings as ‘a car crash in slow motion’.
He added: “These issues were not unknown. The challenges, the demands on people’s time. The senior leadership team here have been working tirelessly in trying to come up with a strategy and an operational improvement plan to deliver services.”
Re-stressing the problems with recruitment, training and the state of the infrastructure at the homes, Mr Marshall said: “We like to think that we are providing a gold service to our looked after children. That’s what we would like to do – we’re not.
“We are in some regards just about managing. We’re budgeted to manage, to deliver an adequate service. And that’s where we are in this world of austerity and the challenges all the budgets face.”
While committee chairman Michael Cloake said ‘just about managing’ was not good enough, Anne Jones (Con, Burgess Hill East) pointed out that the budget for adult and older people social care was £47m compared to £22.65m for children’s social care.
Describing the training given to social workers as ‘not good enough’, she added: “We’ve got to be investing to get people in, because we cannot afford to not look after our children.”
Criticising the levels of bureaucracy faced by staff and managers when reporting problems, council leader Louise Goldsmith added: “This is not about hanging people out to dry. This is doing all we can as elected members to protect the children that have nobody else to protect them.”