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27 January 2023 | Podcasts | Article by Kathleen Hallisey

Doncaster care homes child abuse scandal

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In this week’s podcast the abuse team discuss the Doncaster Care homes child abuse scandal, as three care homes are investigated for physical abuse, sexual abuse, violence, neglect and emotional abuse.

Three care homes in Doncaster owned by Hesley Group for children, young people and adults with severe physical and mental disabilities are being investigated for physical abuse, sexual abuse, violence, neglect and emotional abuse.

A total of 104 reports of concern were made at the homes between early 2018 and the spring of 2021. A former support worker at one of the homes, who said she went to the police in 2018 to give them names of abused children and their staff tormentors but was told there was insufficient evidence to prosecute.

The homes, which included two residential special schools, charged local authorities £250,000 a year to care for each young person.

Leaked documents also show Ofsted was alerted 40 times about incidents.

All three care homes have since been closed and have said that a number of staff had been dismissed.

South Yorkshire Police is sifting through evidence and has urged families of children at the home to come forward so their ‘voices can be heard’ as officers investigate allegations of abuse between 2018 and 2021.

The police first launched Operation Lemur Alpha in March 2021 after the allegations came to light – and police are now appealing for parents, families and potential victims to come forward with information.

As a result of the investigation, a national panel was set up and which has urged urgent action on all local authorities to ensure that children with complex needs and disabilities living in similar children’s homes are safe and well.

The Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel identified a “culture of abuse”, including evidence of violence and sexual harm. Launched in January, shockingly it found a number of complaints had been made to Ofsted dating back to 2015.

Its findings have prompted calls for an urgent, nationwide review of similar children’s homes.

We encourage anyone who has concerns about sexual abuse to get in touch. You can contact Alan Collins at [email protected] or Kathleen Hallisey at [email protected]

The abuse that was carried out included:

  • Being locked outside naked in freezing temperatures
  • Having vinegar poured on cuts
  • Children being left in soiled clothing
  • Being locked in bathrooms overnight
  • Being made to sit in freezing cold baths
  • Being deprived of medication
  • Children being dragged across the floor

One child commented on how they covered their body in washing up liquid so that the staff were unable to grab them.

What have the Hesley Group said following this?

“We recognise that the panel has identified serious failings in the running of Fullerton House, Wheatley House and Wilsic Hall ahead of their closure which led to people receiving unacceptable levels of care, and we are deeply sorry for the hurt caused to young people and their families over this period.

We took swift action at the time to address concerns raised including dismissing several staff, and we made the decision to de-register all homes.

To ensure the voices of the people who live in our services are heard, as well as their safety and wellbeing, we have since undergone a major restructure and made significant changes across our senior management team.

We will carefully consider the issues raised in the National Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel’s initial report to make sure improvements can continue to be made.”

What have Ofsted said following this?

“It is clear that the management and staff of these homes were not open and honest with authorities, including Ofsted. But it’s also clear there are lessons for all of us to learn.”

Alan Collins, Partner and Head of the Abuse team comments in the Doncaster Free Press News Article:

There are clearly leadership issues, but the question has to be asked why has Government not stepped in? What is missing in the need to address these systematic failings is accountability. What we see time after time with these scandals is the inevitable investigation, and report which will criticise and make yet again the same recommendations but are left to moulder away. It is very difficult for victims and their families to hold to account those responsible.

We may see those working at the coal face disciplined but those overseeing the regime that allowed the abuse to remain unaccountable. The government and indeed all parties have an opportunity with the Victims Bill to amend it to introduce accountability to the system so that when things go wrong the victims and their families can hold to account those responsible whether it be a government department, the police, or those running a children’s home.

Maybe that way those responsible will feel the force to change and introduce good practices to their organisations.

Author bio

Kathleen Hallisey

Senior Associate

Kathleen Hallisey is a Senior Associate in the Abuse Team at Hugh James.

Originally from the US, she began her legal career in New York before moving to the UK and becoming a solicitor. Throughout her career, she has exclusively acted on behalf of claimants, including those who suffered catastrophic injuries on the road or at work, were dismissed from their jobs as a result of discrimination, or sexually assaulted on university campuses.

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