Thursday, 20 June 2019

Watchdog drops Chiltern Centre

Watchdog drops Chiltern Centre

AT least seven disabled children must stop visiting a respite care centre in Henley after it lost the right to accept under-16s.

The Chiltern Centre will lose its registration with Ofsted, the education watchdog, on June 19 because it was found to be mostly looking after adults when it is required to care for “wholly or mainly” children.

The charity, which is based in Chilterns End Close, off Greys Road, must instead register as an adult provider with the Care Quality Commission and serve clients aged 16 to 25 only.

It has accepted Ofsted’s ruling, which was confirmed just hours before its annual meeting on Wednesday but has asked for the deadline to be extended while it arranges the transition.

Paul Barrett, chairman of trustees, told the meeting that the CQC was set to approve the new registration with no disruption for the older users.

The decision follows an Ofsted visit in January in which inspectors deemed the service “inadequate” both overall and in three key areas: children and young people’s experiences, helping and protecting them and the effectiveness of leaders and managers.

It said the centre had demonstrated “serious and/or widespread failures” which meant children and young people weren’t protected or their welfare wasn’t being promoted. This stemmed from an incident in which its senior managers made their own judgement on the seriousness of a safeguarding issue instead of referring it to Oxfordshire’s external safeguarding board.

Their decision proved correct but Ofsted said they should have followed protocol.

Following this, centre manager Keith Manning resigned and was replaced by his deputy Gareth Groves.

The charity said it would make the necessary improvements but a few weeks later Ofsted warned it was considering cancelling its registration. Trustees urged the inspectorate to reconsider but to no avail.

Mr Barrett said the centre had looked after mostly adults for many years and Ofsted knowingly overlooked this as the number of child referrals was dropping due to budget cuts by Oxfordshire County Council.

He said it had lost revenue as it chose not to accept referrals in the first few months of the year and couldn’t apply for grants because it couldn’t tell awarding bodies which age group it was catering for.

Mr Barrett said: “The number of younger users has diminished for several reasons. Firstly, people coming here as children grow up and, secondly, we are in a period of austerity. Local authorities aren’t giving money to younger folk for a package to come here.

“In that sense we were ‘bang to rights’ but this was nothing new and we’ve always been transparent to Ofsted about it. If we were asked to look after children only we couldn’t survive financially.

“We made very strong representations as to why they shouldn’t take our registration away based on the fact that we were serving young people who don’t have a lot of alternatives in this area.

“Ofsted had been complicit in this situation for many years and fortunately previous inspectors had shown some imagination. We should be thankful that we ‘got away with it’ for as long as possible but it’s sad that it’s coming to an end.

“We’ve protested getting only one month’s notice as we think that shows an appalling lack of responsibility but clearly we have no grounds for appeal.

“It has been a trying few months while we waited to know our fate but we have some resilient staff and we’re coming out of this beaten but unbowed. We go forward with tremendous confidence that we can carry on serving this community and hope we will continue to receive its support.

“It is sad for the seven or eight families who will have to make alternative arrangements. It will probably involve them finding some kind of care at home, which isn’t quite what they’re used to.”

Mr Barrett said it may be possible to look after children again if the charity found larger premises which would allow strict segregation of the two age groups.

The former Chilterns End care home next door is set to be redeveloped for housing and he hopes a developer might buy the Chilterns Centre site as well, giving the charity the money to relocate.

He said Mr Manning had been the centre’s most successful manager and would be missed.

He said: “He always acted with integrity and really boosted our revenues so it is very unfortunate that he came up against an inspector who was not prepared to make any allowances but simply applied the law.”

Henley Mayor Ken Arlett, who attended the meeting, said: “The inspector should have shown some common sense. I can’t believe this is the only charity in this position and you’d think Ofsted would have come up with a way around it.

“I feel sorry for all the people who work so hard to raise money for the centre as this is a real sledgehammer blow. The real losers are the young people affected and you wonder whether Ofsted realises that.”

The centre, which was launched in 2003, provides respite care for familes of children and young adults with severe physical and learning difficulties.

Mr Barrett revealed that its fund-raisers raised £296,000 last year. He said: “It’s a superb achievement. They really are a great team and we’re very fortunate to have them.

“I would also like to pay tribute to the local community, who have always shown great support for us, as well as our patrons and grant givers.”

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