Children and young people at Oakhill Secure Training Centre are being held in their rooms for 23 hours a day, a joint inspection has found.
Children have spent approximately 19 hours per day on average locked in their rooms on average since mid-July 2021, the centre’s records show and on some days, this has increased to 23 hours. However, the Youth Custody Service (YCS) reported to inspectors that it questions the accuracy of the centre’s data, indicating that the time children have spent locked into their rooms could be higher than that reported by the centre.
When children are locked into their bedrooms, education does not occur face to face but through a child’s locked bedroom door.
Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre has recently been rated as inadequate in a joint inspection after the centre was slammed for holding new inmates in isolation for 23.5 hours per day when they arrived at the centre to ensure they self-isolated for COVID-19, a practice the inspectors said had “no rationale” for.
“Staff [at Oakhill] told inspectors that their morale is very low and that they do not feel supported by managers. The centre’s records show that, on the vast majority of days in July and August 2021, the minimum staffing levels to ensure the safe and appropriate care of children were not met,” said the report from Ofsted, HMI Prisons and Care Quality Commission.
Additional staff from a prison and Young Offenders Institution have been brought in to work at the centre to try to supplement the depleted workforce, however, it is too early to determine if this has had any measurable impact on children or the running of the centre.
Children’s day-to-day experiences are very poor, said the report. Many children described to inspectors 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.
“The way in which centre staff encourage children to develop positive behaviours and social skills is in disarray. Some children told inspectors that they are able to intimidate staff in order to retain incentives that they have not earned and are not entitled to. The inspectorate’s findings support children’s views,” the report added.
There has been an increase in the number of force and single separation, where children are locked in their rooms because they are a risk to themselves or others, since the last inspection and these incidents are at an extremely high level. The failure of managers and centre staff to implement appropriate and reasonable boundaries appears to be a contributing factor to a significant increase in violence and the use of force and single separation. Conflict resolution work with children has often taken far too long to commence and conclude.
The report highlights that the YCS is concerned about the failings at the centre. It has taken actions, including pausing placements and increased on-site monitoring of the centre’s performance. Despite this, little progress has been made when similar concerns, particularly those relating to staffing, were raised by inspectors at the previous inspection in May 2021.
There is a newly appointed interim temporary Director. The interim Director took up her post on 1 September 2021 for a maximum period of three months. She acknowledges the concerns and understands the challenges that need to be addressed. However, permanent leadership is not in place, but is essential to plan and implement positive, meaningful and lasting change for the vulnerable children at the centre.
The inspectorates recommend that appropriate staffing levels are urgently established to provide effective and appropriate care for children. Staff should be provided with a good level of support.
Children should have a full daily routine, including full-time face-to-face education and managers should urgently review the centre’s behaviour incentive scheme and ensure that staff implement the scheme consistently and fairly for all children.
Oakhill STC is operated by G4S Care and Justice Services and provides accommodation for up to 80 male children aged 12 to 17 years who are serving a custodial sentence or who are remanded to custody by the courts. There were 46 children resident at the time of the monitoring visit.
“This monitoring visit was unannounced. Inspectors found widespread failings that are having a significant impact on the care and well-being of children in the areas that were the focus of this visit,” the report concluded.