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Improvements made at Oakhill STC but centre remains fragile

Children being held at Oakhill Secure Training Centre are safer than they previously were in the last inspection of the establishment where it was graded inadequate, but fragility remains.

The monitoring visit carried out by Ofsted, Care Quality Commission and HMI Prisons found that the immediate serious and widespread concerns identified in the key recommendations from the last inspection have been addressed, meaning children are safer. However, inspectors noted that it is “very early days”, and the changes have not yet been embedded.

“Since the last inspection, there has been another change of interim director. The new interim director started work on 8 November 2021. He has made a palpable difference in a very short period. He is child-focused and clear in his priorities to improve and sustain the standard of care and safety for children at the centre. The interim director and his senior leadership team are visible and known across the centre to children and staff,” said the report.

“Staff feel better supported through regular supervision that is now taking place. There is an investment and understanding by staff of the centre’s newly and clearly defined priorities for improvement. Staff are given clear and consistent messages by leaders. They spoke to inspectors with energy and enthusiasm about being refocused and repurposed,” the report added.

However, the centre is about to experience further change with the imminent appointment of a permanent director. While inspectors noted this as a positive move, fragility remains in the existing leadership team and staff workforce and the very recent impetus and improvement requires extensive consolidation to provide a good level of safe care to children.

The monitoring visit, carried out on 30 November and 1 December last year, was unannounced with the purpose of the visit being to ensure that children are safe and that adequate steps have been taken by G4S, who run the centre, to safeguard and protect the welfare of children.

A joint inspection, carried out in early October and published later that month, revealed that children were being held in their cells for 23 hours per day, with education being carried out through the child’s locked bedroom door. Children’s day-to-day experiences were very poor and many children told inspectors of chaotic arrangements and general disorganisation at the centre. They said that they did not know what was happening from morning to afternoon, or from one day to the next. Activities were cancelled at the last minute and this was typically linked to a lack of staffing.

In November, Prisons Minister Victoria Atkins MP outlined urgent action was to be taken at Oakhill to ensure the safety of the children being held there.

The latest monitoring visit carried out at the end of November and early December found:

  • A safeguarding working group has been established by the centre to address the outstanding and delayed referrals to local authority children’s services seen at the last inspection.
  • Over 230 cases have been subject to reassessment and review, and where necessary referred to external agencies for further action and/or investigation.
  • The quality of safeguarding outcome records is improving.
  • Partnership working with external agencies has been re-established.
  • While there was a reduction in incidents of violence in November, levels over the previous six months remained high when taking into account the reduced population of the centre.
  • In recent months, the use of force has reduced from the very high levels seen in the summer.
  • The responses to children’s, professionals’ and parents’ complaints have improved.
  • The children’s living environment has notably improved, and a programme of refurbishment has started.

Residential staff are now able to access key information that informs them about the day[1]to-day care needs of the children. The information is up to date and relevant in identifying any risks to children. Staff understand this information, which enables them to help keep children safe. One child said to inspectors that ‘Staff are not here for the money; they are here because they actually care about us.’

The monitoring visit recommends that all the recommendations from the October 2021 inspection are fully addressed, embedded and sustained.

Monitoring visit Oakhill STC

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