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Standards at Wick residential unit for young people rated as 'weak' in report

By Alan Hendry

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Standards of care at a residential unit for young people in Wick have been rated as uniformly "weak" in a report from the Care Inspectorate.

It identified a series of shortcomings at Avonlea, a purpose-built house in the town's West Banks Avenue providing care for five young people who are looked after by Highland Council.

However, the local authority criticised the findings, claiming positive elements of the report were not reflected in the Care Inspectorate's overall assessment.

Care services in Scotland cannot operate unless they are registered with the Care Inspectorate. It carries out inspections, awards grades and helps services to improve, as well as investigating complaints.

The Avonlea report follows on from an unannounced inspection in September 2021.

The report assessed the level service on the basis of three questions:

  • "How well do we support children and young people's wellbeing?"
  • "How good is our leadership?"
  • "How well is our care and support planned?"
Highland Council said it did not consider the Care Inspectorate report was an accurate reflection of all aspects of the service at Avonlea.
Highland Council said it did not consider the Care Inspectorate report was an accurate reflection of all aspects of the service at Avonlea.

The rating from the Care Inspectorate was "weak" in all three areas. It pointed out that "no steps" had been taken on a previously identified area for improvement.

Views were gathered from some of the young people being cared for. Some were positive but others included "We are always told new staff are coming in and it's difficult to build relationships," "Staff aren't able to keep me safe" and "I felt so alone".

The report said staff shortages and staff changes had "negatively impacted on young people in a number of ways".

It continued: "We heard from them how this impacted on them being supported to health appointments, and the difficulty in trusting new staff.

"Staff had also felt they were not able to meet the needs of the young people due to there not being enough staff."

Another part of the report stated: "It was disappointing to find there were no individual care plans for any of the young people – although there was a child's plan provided by the social worker these were not reflective of the individual needs, supports and routines of the young people.

"We were concerned at the lack of planning for some young people with their education and the impact this could have on young people to achieve. There was a lack of understanding of continuing care which meant there was an inconsistent level of care received."

On the question of leadership, the report stated: "We heard from staff and young people that they did not see a lot of management present within the house, which impacted on the support the staff felt they received in helping them implement effective supports to young people."

The report referred to a previous "area for improvement" from 2019 stating that all young people should have an up-to-date personal plan. "There had been no steps made to achieve this area for improvement, which has now been implemented as a requirement," the report said.

Avonlea opened in June 2014 on part of former allotments alongside Rhind House. The £1.2 million, five-bed, single-storey home replaced the former children's centre in nearby Northcote Street which dated from the late 1970s and was deemed no longer fit for purpose.

The Care Inspectorate report noted that two other houses are also under the registration.

A spokesperson for Highland Council said: “We do not consider the report is an accurate reflection of all aspects of the service.

"It is disappointing that the Care Inspectorate’s report does not provide any recognition of the very extensive and varied challenges faced by care staff and the service as a result of the Covid-19 context during this period.

"The report states that the inspectorate observed: 'Committed and empathic relationships were at the forefront of care provided by the service.' It further states: 'External professionals told us about the committed staff team and the good quality of care afforded to the children.'

"These are very positive statements reflecting the care provided by the service and are not consistent with the poor assessment reached by the Care Inspectorate.

"The Highland Council practice model is based on a consistent and dedicated multi-agency plan for each child. There were a number of issues identified in the report and these are being addressed and rectified through an improvement plan.”

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