Council criticised over poor state of children's homes

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The Independent Online
CHILDREN living in council-run homes in Sheffield are having to cope with shabby conditions and little has been done to improve their quality of life, according to the Department of Health's Social Services Inspectorate.

The inspectorate's report, released yesterday after a sample inspection of the city, said that except in two of the homes visited physical conditions remained poor. Private space was limited and in some shared bedrooms extremely cramped.

Inspectors found that several bathrooms and shower-rooms were either broken, unusable or unacceptably dirty. In two homes nutrition was of questionable quality. Fittings and furnishings were in a poor state and in one home there were no locks or handles on several doors.

The report found little practical progress had been achieved in improving care and treatment for young people who had suffered the trauma of abuse.

There was also little progress in improving education and training opportunities for children who were unable or unwilling to attend school or who had been disadvantaged by having their home lives disrupted. The findings come shortly after homes in Sheffield were highlighted during a Crown Court case where Malcolm Thompson, a social worker, was jailed for sexually abusing boys in his care in a children's home.

The inspectorate carried out a follow-up inspection of children's homes run by the Sheffield Family and Community Services department. This was aimed at checking progress since an earlier inspection in May and June last year, which made 30 recommendations for the improvement of care at the homes and for the department's management practice.

The inspectors found that no change in policy or strategy had taken place to improve response to the needs of children from ethnic minority backgrounds.

The report said useful work had been done to provide staff with information, guidance and training, but no other management initiative had been taken. 'Sadly a long-standing issue of racial abuse of black staff by white children at one home had resulted in the redeployment of four black members of staff, leaving an unsatisfactory arrangement where black children were being cared for by an entirely white staff team.'

The inspectors recommend that the council produces a timetable to bring its community homes up to the standards required by the Children's Homes Regulations and the Arrangements for Placement of Children Regulations which were issued in 1991.

Steve Jones, chairman of Sheffield City Council's Family and Community Services Committee, said yesterday it acknowledged that further improvements were needed, particularly in the refurbishment and repair of homes.

Mr Jones said: 'The report is a mixed one with some good and some bad, while the minister's comments seem to emphasise mainly negative aspects rather than the greater balance evident in the detail of the report.'

Social Services Inspectorate: Inspection of Children's Homes provided by Sheffield City Council Family and Community Services Department.