Damning report into Margate School closure

In the March issue of BDN we reported on the effects of the sudden closure of the Royal School for Deaf Children in Margate. Now a new report by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) into the failings of Westgate College and the Royal School has revealed that Deaf students were among those who suffered from “shocking examples of institutionalised failings and abuse”.

The CQC published its report last month having been unable to do so before because of legal action taken by the John Townsend Trust which ran the site.

The Trust went into administration in December. About 500 staff were made redundant and 150 students were affected.

The health and social care regulator has revealed examples of residents being pushed, hit and humiliated. In one case a resident allegedly had a hot cup of tea placed on their arm.

Among the shocking failings listed were a cupboard containing hazardous chemicals being accessible to residents and serious medication errors.

Andrea Sutcliffe, chief inspector of adult social care at the CQC, said: “What we saw at Westgate College for Deaf People and the Road Project – and what was reported to us – were shocking examples of institutionalised failings and abuse.

“Residents were physically harmed by the very people who should have been caring for them, and the leadership within the John Townsend Trust did not take sufficient steps to prevent this, or to tackle a culture where people in vulnerable circumstances were not protected.”

There was a separate allegation that a staff member had grabbed a resident around the neck and pushed their head down.

On a later visit inspectors found that vulnerable residents were left unsupervised in a swimming pool with no lifeguard on duty. In some cases, police were notified but no charges were brought due to insufficient evidence.

The regulator said it first received safeguarding alerts about the service in June 2014. At an unannounced inspection in October 2014, it was reported that, after a resident ripped their T-shirt, a member of staff hit the resident with it and told them that their activities would be withdrawn.

Another unannounced inspection the following month uncovered more abuse, including residents being ridiculed for their physical and learning disabilities. As a result, a number of staff members were suspended, some of whom were later dismissed.

Further serious concerns were raised in July 2015.

Sutcliffe said: “At the point we first took action against the John Townsend Trust – in November 2014 – we made it clear that their service was not meeting the needs of the young people that they were responsible for caring for. The fact that these young people had complex and profound disabilities meant that our decision about whether to start the process which would lead to the urgent closure of the service had to be balanced against
the difficulties involved in finding alternative placements for them at short notice.”

Barbara Keeley, shadow minister for care, carers and older people said: “Too little action has been taken by the government over the past few years to address failings identified for people in residential care.

“Ministers need to provide urgent assurances that this kind of abuse is not widespread and that action is being taken to protect the welfare of vulnerable people who receive care.”

Terry Riley, Chair of the British Deaf Association said: “We cannot accept this kind of abuse and we are looking to the Government and Kent County Council to use this report as the basis for an independent enquiry to ensure that these vulnerable young adults never experience this behaviour again.

“It is also important to look at the wider issues of training, support, and to ensure quality of the care staff is of the highest level and also highly appropriate for these vulnerable adults. We are also supporting the Trust in their endeavours to ensure those vulnerable adults are protected in their new placements and ongoing residences.”

The National Deaf Children’s Society echoed the BDA’s call for a governmental review to see what lessons can be learnt so that other children and young people do not go through the same ordeal elsewhere.

Terry Riley added: “Our main concern is to ensure that the children get the support and care they need to ensure a good quality of life, which though difficult, is the least they deserve. The BDA will continue to support the parents and families of these children and vulnerable adults. The Trust and other organisation’s are working hard to make sure
these children get the right support and education and to ensure that their right to dignity is the overriding factor in this sad episode.”