Children’s home is worst in country

A children’s home where vulnerable teenagers had to take cold showers for more than a year due to problems with the heating system has been ranked the worst in Scotland.

Chapel House, a Paisley care home run by Renfrewshire Council, was blighted by violence, bullying and drug abuse and suffered from chronic failures in leadership and basic social care practice, reports said.

Most of its residents have behavioural problems after enduring neglect and abuse in families with drug and alcohol problems.

In a series of bleak reports issued in April 2009 and March and September this year, Care Commission inspectors said staff working night shifts were untrained in crisis intervention and not known to the teenagers.

The home was cold, dirty, vandalised and had pest infestations, and windows and furniture in some bedrooms were broken.

“It is of considerable concern that the child has slept in these conditions for a number of days,” Lynne Thow, the head inspector, said of one boy’s room.

In September, the home was ranked “unsatisfactory” in three categories and “weak” in a fourth. It had the worst rating of Scotland’s 211 children’s homes, according to league tables obtained under Freedom of Infor- mation legislation. Four other homes were weak or unsatisfactory in at least one area.

Renfrewshire Council’s director of social work, Peter MacLeod, said yesterday that Chapel House had “significantly improved” since then and insisted conditions had never been “dramatically different” from those in other homes. He said the council’s social services have been rated the best in Scotland.

Children told inspectors of ant infestations in the kitchen and filling baths with kettles because the heating often failed. Personal files were insecurely kept and children’s possessions were kept in staff offices because of thefts.

Inspectors said there were high levels of violent attacks on staff, as well as bullying, anxiety and drug abuse. They questioned whether the home was an appropriate place for some of the more disturbed children, whose recent arrival created a “volatile mix”.

One child said: “The house is cold. Staff say they’re doing something but nothing is done.”

Another told inspectors: “Night shift is terrible. There’s sometimes a stranger we don’t know outside our door and sometimes two strangers.”

Ms Thow wrote in September: “We found a physical environment that in many places was damaged, unkempt and lacking in a homely atmosphere.

“We saw evidence of graffiti internally and externally. The entrance to the house was dirty and the outdoor area damaged and unsafe.”

In 2008, Chapel House received good reports from inspectors and was praised by children. But the sudden departure of a manager, followed by the loss five other staff, led to low morale and fears about “the lack of direction and leadership in the service,” inspectors found.

The reports describe children barricading themselves in rooms and staff “constantly” locking doors behind them – a practice deemed inappropriate and “institutional”. “Staff acknowledged that they do not have the time they require to spend with individual young people and describe a constant stream of incidents to manage, including violent incidents, assaults on staff and missing persons,” Ms Thow said.

Renfrewshire’s principal officer for child care, Michelle McCargo, said the council had repeatedly tried to fix the ageing boiler which “struggles to cope with a group living situation”.

She said its failures had “unfortunately coincided” with inspection visits. Residents were responsible for graffiti and broken windows, she added, and the atmosphere had improved after an older “bully” left.

Ms McCargo said a new, more experienced team was now in place and consultants were providing child protection training.

A Care Commission spokesman said it had noted improvements and will consider regrading the home after future inspections.