Inspectors versus parents

week’s panel discusses an after-school group valued by parents, but which does
not satisfy inspectors and is faced with closure.


An after-school group is the only service in the borough that provides care for
children with special needs. It also serves children without special needs, and
is much needed as it is the only scheme locally for a large council housing
estate with a high proportion of people from ethnic minorities.

Following numerous announced and unannounced visits regulation officers are
seeking the closure of the group. Concerns include the numbers, skills,
knowledge and experience of staff (some of whom are under 18), use of taxis
arranged by the scheme (and not vetted) to transport children, driving children
in an uninsured minibus, and taking part in swimming (insufficient staff
numbers given the dangerous nature of the sport). The inspecting officers
consider this shows the manager not to be a fit person. However, parents have
vociferously defended the scheme. They have lobbied the director of social
services and their "Save our Scheme" protests have attracted coverage
from the local paper. The manager is black and he feels the inspecting officers
– four white women – are being unreasonable and racist. The social services
department places five children at the scheme and have no complaint about the
service. However, the inspecting officers argue that the scheme, while
promoting itself as a specialised scheme, actually provides very little in the
way of specialised care or programmes, and yet charges the department three
times the rate per hour that it charges children from the local estate.

Panel responses

This is a very difficult situation. While allowing this group to continue
in its current format is not a viable option, just closing it down with no
action is no way to tackle the problem either.

is clearly a popular group, which suggest they must be doing something right.
Nevertheless, children are potentially in danger and protective measures must
be taken.

is no evidence that the regulation officers are being racist in their dealings
with the manager, but I can understand the way he feels if there are four white
people trying to dismiss him and take away his livelihood.

social services department needs to work with the people in charge of the group
in order to improve the way in which it is being run. The group are probably
aiming to work in the children’s best interests, but the service is not being
delivered in an appropriate manner.

social services department needs to consider putting investment into the
training of the people running the group.

should also consult the children about what is going well within the group, sit
down with the people running the group, explain the problems with the current
situation, and come to an agreement as to what should be done.

the appropriate and legally required insurance for the group’s minibus would
not be too difficult or expensive. Also providing extra staffing and training
should be fairly straightforward.

the most important message I would give is that both the social services
department and the inspection team need to ensure that the group keeps within
the law and that they achieve this by working with the group members rather
than against them. This is the way to ensure that the situation improves rather
than deteriorates.

the group also needs to appreciate that it must respect and meet the legal
requirements and maintain moral standards.

good relations between the group, the social services department and the
inspecting team are ultimately the key to a successful outcome.

What are the underlying issues? First, the action taken by the regulation
officers comes after numerous visits. But what action points were raised by
each visit and were improvements placed within specific time frames with follow
up checks? If so, the after-school group should have responded with a clear
action plan.

of the concerns raised could have been addressed very quickly by the scheme
with little difficulty. For example, taxi companies can be vetted and health
and safety issues addressed. We would assume that there were policies in place
within the group, which the regulation team would have received before visits
(for example, health and safety, transport, staffing profile).

is of greater concern is that social services have placed five children, but
there is no apparent evidence that they took steps to ensure the group had the
necessary minimum standards in place to satisfy the placement. It is also
puzzling that they placed the children without considering what the
"specialised" team offered. Also, does the group have a statement of
purpose? It seems as if it caters for young people with a wide range of
abilities and therefore should have been able to give evidence how they can cater
for such a range.

group does seem to have the support of the local community and this needs to be
built upon by establishing a management committee, supported by social
services, which should prepare a business plan. The support of other
departments could be co-opted when considering how to improve leisure
facilities, and health and safety.

for issues of racism, we were concerned that in the inspection process of a
group where there are service users from ethnic minorities, that an inspector
from a similar background was not used. From the very first visit it should
have been obvious to inspectors that good practice would have required a
multi-ethnic approach.

group is much needed as it is the only scheme locally for a large council
housing estate. The task for social services should be to work with community
partners to establish best policy and practice within the group and place some
ownership of the management steering group within the local community.

User view

seems that the regulation team believe it would be far easier to close this
service down than it would to spend the time and money to enable it to be more
suitably run for the children and the people on the outside.

only people willing to keep this service going it seems are the parents and
workers and they obviously have no problems with the way this service is run
for their children.

no one else see that this is a good and much-needed programme which helps the
children and provides a fun and helpful service, close to the area they know
and live in.

are a lot of good things going for the service and the range of children that
use it. I feel it is a good way to help these children learn and understand
about different cultures and needs of others. It also helps the community come
together by involving children and parents from different backgrounds.

inspectors have a job to do and that job is to ensure that everything runs in a
way that satisfies the children’s needs and safety. While they have some
underlying problems that need to be addressed I don’t feel that it is enough
reason to close the service. These can be sorted out with enough care,
attention and support.

this situation been discussed with all the parties involved? Has everyone come
together to talk and find a solution without arguing and protesting? To me, the
solution is simple. The inspectors wish to close the group because they find it
unfit. The parents wish to keep it open because they feel it is good for their
children. Which is the best option for the children? I feel that there is a bit
of a communication problem here, with everyone just sticking to their guns and
not willing to compromise. Both parties need to understand each other and come
to an agreement which is satisfactory for every one involved.

inspectors are the ones with the problem. I feel they are not willing to give
this group a chance. The problems the group has with staff numbers, experience,
travel and so on can be sorted out with the time and support.

would be far better for the children to keep this group than to take it away
from them. So, I feel the inspectors need to help devise and oversee the
changes that are needed rather than rush to close the service down.

Dickson is a care leaver.

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