Investigation reveals details of appalling abuse suffered by vulnerable children at homes

A mother has described how her autistic daughter, who has epilepsy and significant learning disabilities, was grabbed by the wrist and dragged across the floor at a residential home which was supposed to be looking after her.

Nicola Oades told the BBC her daughter Ruby was pulled into her bedroom by a member of staff at Fullerton House (pictured) in Doncaster, South Yorkshire.

Ms Oades was speaking as part of an investigation by the BBC which found that children were punched, had vinegar poured in cuts and were locked out naked while they were residents of homes in the Doncaster area.

Last year, a national review called for “urgent action” after finding children with disabilities and complex needs suffered “very serious abuse and neglect” at three residential settings in the town, run by the Hesley Group.

The Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel identified a “culture of abuse and harm” which saw some of society’s most vulnerable children experience “systematic and sustained” abuse and neglect over a period of more than three years.

The BBC’s investigation focused on leaked documents, including safeguarding reports, from the Hesley Group and interviews with former staff to reveal how children were reportedly locked overnight in bathrooms, made to sit in cold baths and left in soiled clothes.

Ms Oades said: “It’s appalling.”

She said: “It’s hard enough to make that decision to put your child into care – you put all your trust into these people.”

“It’s soul-destroying,” she said. “You’d think when they are getting £250,000 a year, (children) would be getting the Rolls-Royce of care.”

The findings of the review, published in October last year, were deemed to be so serious that the panel demanded urgent action from councils across the country, and Ofsted.

Phase one of the review examined the experiences of 108 children and young adults living at Fullerton House, Wilsic Hall and Wheatley House, three residential special schools registered as children’s homes and operated by the Hesley Group, between January 2018 to March 2021.

It found a number of complaints had been made to Ofsted dating back to 2015.

The review detailed how abuse was “inflicted with no respite” and allowed to flourish, with children and young adults experiencing physical abuse from staff and other residents, excessive force, physical neglect and taunting.

It said they were subject to “significant and varied” emotional abuse by staff and there was evidence suggesting staff had “seriously breached sexual boundaries with each other and with children and young adults”.

Many of those impacted had difficulties in communicating and “would have found it difficult to report the abuse”, the review said.

South Yorkshire Police is continuing to investigate what happened at the schools.

In October, the Hesley Group said it was “deeply sorry for the hurt caused to young people and their families over this period” and will consider the issues raised in the review to ensure improvements “can continue to be made”.

The group said it took “swift action” to address concerns at the time, including dismissing several staff, and deregistered the homes.

At the same time, Ofsted said: “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.

“We will continue to support the police investigation into the abuse, and we are already taking steps to improve what we do through inspection and regulation.”

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