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Highland Council says Avonlea care home in Wick is 'being temporarily vacated'

By Alan Hendry

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A Care Inspectorate report into Avonlea found 'significant weaknesses which compromised the safety and wellbeing of young people'.
A Care Inspectorate report into Avonlea found 'significant weaknesses which compromised the safety and wellbeing of young people'.

Wick's Avonlea care home is "being temporarily vacated" and is "not formally closing", Highland Council has announced.

The statement appears to be at odds with a previous comment from the local authority that the facility was "progressing a carefully planned closure".

The council says Avonlea’s children and young people will be placed into "more suitable and appropriate accommodation".

Checks were carried out on Avonlea by the Care Inspectorate in July this year and its subsequent report lists a number of complaints.

"We found significant weaknesses which compromised the safety and wellbeing of young people," the document states. "We issued a letter of serious concern as urgent improvements were required to ensure people were safe and protected."

A young adult who has been a user of the service has in the meantime alleged that young people and staff have been "left in the dark" over the future of Avonlea, claiming that senior managers have ignored their concerns.

The 19-year-old is a resident at one of the two houses linked to Avonlea that accommodate young people in care in the 16-25 age group.

The speculation over Avonlea's future comes just eight years after the £1.2 million home opened in the town's West Banks Avenue. It was described at the time as providing "a high-quality environment" for young people aged 12 to 16.

Highland Council confirmed last month that Avonlea was "progressing a carefully planned closure".

A spokesperson said at the time: “This involves sensitive discussions with staff, children and young adults, as to innovative options which promote the best outcomes."

On Monday, the council issued a statement saying: “Following the Care Inspectorate inspection report for Avonlea children’s home, which was published during July 2022, Highland Council acted swiftly in relation to its statutory duties and is now well under way in the process of placing Avonlea’s children and young people into more suitable and appropriate accommodation.

"Avonlea is being temporarily vacated – it is not formally closing – while the service reviews its practice and policies. Avonlea’s future use will be considered as part of a much wider review and assessment of the health and social care service.

"Ultimately, the council’s ambition is to reduce the number of children and young people in residential care. This review is designed to identify innovative options which will promote the best outcomes for our children and young people.

"While it would be inappropriate for Highland Council to respond to comments made by a resident of Avonlea through a public forum such as a newspaper, we can confirm that sensitive discussions have actively been taking place with our children and young adults to alleviate uncertainty as far as possible at this time.

"Support will continue to be available to these individuals, even once they have moved into more suitable alternative accommodation.

"We take our corporate parenting responsibilities extremely seriously with those children and young adults being significantly involved in their future plans, with a focus on choice, voice and innovation to develop models of care that strengthen support and relationships for care-experienced children and young adults in Wick.”

The 19-year-old said: "Both young people and staff have been left in the dark with no answers to any of their questions and no changes to daily life almost six weeks after being told closure would commence within a fortnight.

"I myself have challenged the senior managers who made the decision to close our homes on multiple occasions throughout this time and have either been completely ignored and disregarded, or have received no answers to any of my questions.

"The treatment and communication I have received has been nothing short of abhorrent from my corporate parents who claim to take their responsibilities very seriously."

The person praised the efforts of staff, saying "you’d be incredibly hard pushed to find a team of people that are as dedicated and caring", but criticised those at managerial level.

The teenager added: "The reality of how we have been and are being treated is farcical. Scotland will keep The Promise – provided you don’t live in the Highlands, that is."

The Promise is a national commitment to ensuring children in care are “loved, safe, and respected and realise their full potential”, reflecting Scotland's ambition “to be the best place in the world to grow up”.

A 124-page report published by Scotland’s Independent Care Review formed the basis of The Promise. The report was based on assessments of the childcare system from 2017-20.

Two inspectors from the Care Inspectorate carried out unannounced checks at Avonlea on July 11. Key messages set out in their report are:

  • A letter of serious concern was issued to the service.
  • At times there were no staff available to support young people.
  • Avonlea failed to act on protection concerns.
  • There were no individual care plans for the young people.
  • Risk assessments were not robust.
  • Staff did not have the relevant training.
  • There was no development plan for the service.
  • Debriefs were not reflective or happening consistently after each event.
  • Complaints were not actioned or dealt with appropriately
  • The service was evaluated as “unsatisfactory” in the way it supported children and young people's rights and wellbeing.

"During our inspection we found that Avonlea had not responded appropriately to protection concerns for the young people in their care," the report states. "We also found that the complaints made to the service had not been responded to or acted upon.

"One young person told us: 'I have made complaints, but nothing has changed.' This had led to young people being placed at significant risk with no evidence of support. This led to the Care Inspectorate issuing a letter of serious concern to the service."

The Care Inspectorate set out a number of requirements.

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