Report Slams Council Over North Wales Autism Centre

POOR management and planning by a North Wales council was blamed today for the shock closure of a residential home for vulnerable children.

An inspectors’ report found a series of failings by Denbighshire council over the closure of the centre for young people with autistic disorders within a year of its opening.

There was an outcry from parents and staff when the authority decided to shut the much-needed facility which offered 52-week residential care.

Education minister Jane Hutt ordered a review of the closure decision of the Hyfrydle centre in Denbigh.

Now a report from the social services inspectorate and the schools inspectors Estyn found poor project governance in developing the project.

The critical findings included evidence of ‘limited market appraisal and research, inadequate planning, management and review, and a lack of continuity in project management as a result of a high turnover of key staff’.

The review also found a lack of clarity amongst key stakeholders concerning responsibilities and accountabilities; a lack of consistent and effective engagement between key stakeholders over the duration of the project; and an absence of effective joint working in the local authority on this project, although the review team found evidence of some recent improvement in this area.

Insufficient professional expertise was sought from the start concerning the development and operation of this children’s home, it said.

“The development of Hyfrydle children’s home was the final phase of an ambitious project with a vision to create a regional centre of excellence for children with autistic spectrum disorder,” the report said.

“The full project comprised the redevelopment of a special school with residential facilities. Starting in 2000, this project was completed in 2007.

“Overall the project has been successful, the exception being the development of the 52-week residential provision, Hyfrydle.”

Denbighshire council accepted the findings of the report.

Both the internal and the CSSIW /Estyn reports highlighted a ‘number of weaknesses’ relating to project management, business planning, partnership working and the lines of accountability relating to Hyfrydle, in some cases going back a number of years, it said.

“However, the report by the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales and Estyn, found that Denbighshire’s decision to review the viability and future use of Hyfrydle “was based on genuine and valid concerns about the appropriateness and financial viability of the provision…. In the circumstances, the decision to review the provision was appropriate.”

“It goes on to say that most of the parents concerned have ‘reportedly accepted the alternative arrangements positively and in some cases are saying that the alternative placements would be their preferred option had they been given an earlier choice’.”

The council had already acted on the recommendations from the independent review, a statement said.

Leader of Denbighshire council Hugh Evans said: “There are clear lessons to be learned. Our commitment is evident in the steps that we have already taken to improve project management across the authority.

“I will be meeting the minister to discuss how we can work with the Welsh Assembly Government to consolidate the actions already implemented by the council and to strengthen future working arrangements.

“I believe that the Cabinet took the right decision to close Hyfrydle on the basis of a robust business case. Since then, we have provided extensive support to those affected by the decision, including young people and their families and staff.”