Tougher STC inspections to focus on children's experience

By Joanne Parkes

| 13 March 2019

Secure training centres (STCs) are to be subject to a tougher regime from next month following publication of Ofsted's new joint inspection framework today.

HM inspector of prisons Peter Clarke, says the new framework puts the "experience of children at the centre" of judgments

Following consultation with the sector and a successful trial last autumn, the framework is intended to place "the experience of children at the centre of all judgments".

Another key change will be a closer focus on STCs jointly judged inadequate by the inspectorates Ofsted, the Care Quality Commission and HM Inspectorate of Prisons.

The move follows critical reports on all three of England's STCs - Oakhill, Rainsbrook and Medway - which deal with children aged between 12 and 18.

Medway has had two inadequate inspection judgments since a 2016 BBC Panorama investigation revealed unnecessary force was being used on children.

Further concerns about staff continuing to inappropriately use pain-inducing physical restraint were again flagged by a pilot inspection in December last year.

A least one member of staff and two young people required hospital treatment due to violence between March 2016 and August 2017 at Rainsbrook.

At Oakhill in Milton Keynes, inspectors found that violence "has not reduced and remains high".

Under the new framework, from 1 April if an STC is given the lowest rating, an urgent review meeting will be held with the Ministry of Justice to determine the most appropriate action.

Inspectors will then routinely return to check on progress within eight weeks of the initial inspection.

The notice period that STCs are given before inspection will be reduced to four days.

This is one day less than proposed in the consultation, and two days fewer than under existing arrangements.

In an attempt to encourage children to speak more openly and improve focus, a "point-in-time" survey of their views will be used to inform the timing of an inspection and key lines of inquiry.

A "revised and simplified judgment structure" will help tell a clearer story about what life is like for the children living at the STC.

Peter Clarke, HM chief inspector of prisons, said: "The new framework has the experience of children at the centre of all judgments and provides the foundation for developing a comprehensive inspection regime as children's custody is reformed and new models of detention developed."

Yvette Stanley, Ofsted's national director for social care, said that although STCs have improved conditions in some ways, the changes reflect "serious concerns" raised in recent years.

"These changes will see inspectors focus more on the difference that the centres make to children's lives, and less on processes and procedures," said Stanley.

Ursula Gallagher, CQC's lead for care in secure settings, highlighted the vulnerability of children in secure settings, who have a "very complicated set of needs".

Better representation of their experience of healthcare in the overall judgment, will give a "clearer view of what does and does not work well in these settings", said Gallagher.

She added: "Knowing this, we as regulators can help drive improvements in the system and better outcomes for patients."

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