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Inspectors told of lack of control at crisis-hit care home

By Jamie Hall

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Andrew Jarvie
Andrew Jarvie

A HOME which cares for children and teenagers with complex needs has been slammed by inspectors.

The Northern Lights home in Scaniport, on the outskirts of Inverness, is run by Barnardo’s Scotland in partnership with Highland Council and looks after kids and young adults aged nine to 17.

Based on what they saw during an unannounced visit last month, the Care Inspectorate has published a report which contains damning testimony from staff "overwhelmed" by the challenges presented by some of their charges.

They talk about dealing with "crisis after crisis" and of young people regularly taking illegal substances, consuming alcohol and being badly behaved.

The report states: "There were many instances of the police being called to assist staff to deal with situations within the house."

One young person told inspectors: "I don’t feel safe here anymore."

Another claimed: "Some staff change the rules for an easy life as things just explode if some young people don’t get what they want."

The inspectors were told items had been stolen from rooms and some children were unable to sleep at night because of others’ bad behaviour. One parent also told them their child "needed to be somewhere away from Inverness as they are not safe here".

The home looks after children and young people with social, emotional and behavioural problems and aims to enable them to move back in with their families, or live independently in their communities.

The Care Inspectorate concluded there were "concerns which were important enough to have an adverse impact on the health and wellbeing of young people" and warned changes needed to be made immediately.

These include better assessment of young people before they are accommodated at Northern Lights and ensuring all staff receive training to deal with young people "with very complex needs".

Although rated as adequate in terms of care and support measures, inspectors said this was only because Barnardo’s shared their concerns and were addressing these "as a matter of urgency".

A second inspection will be carried out within a year.

Barnardo’s and Highland Council would not say how many children currently live at Northern Lights but a spokeswoman for the charity said it was working on improvements with the council and other partners.

The home opened in June 2011 and although its first inspection earned it a poor rating, it improved to the point where care and support was rated as "excellent" just last year.

Councillor Andrew Jarvie, a member of Highland Council’s care and learning committee, said: "It is quite disappointing to see a service which has had a long history of high standards on unannounced visits has slipped so dramatically in just 12 months.

"This report shows that the staff are overwhelmed by some children with significant needs, with the staff saying their training had not prepared them for reality.

"I am extremely concerned that some young people told the inspector that they did not feel safe and were afraid of other children.

"When a child is removed from a family they do not feel safe with, it is just not good enough for them to be placed somewhere else they still feel unsafe.

"This report has come as shock to me and I do not know if Barnardo’s has approached the council for help.

"In view of the requirements the report lists for their management, I would expect the council to ensure this is in place before the next inspection."

A spokeswoman for Highland Council said it was supporting Barnardo’s to implement improvements.

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