VIOLENCE, bullying and crime are among “serious and widespread concerns” linked to failings at one in ten of the region’s children’s homes, The Northern Echo can reveal.

Vulnerable children at several residential homes in the North-East have been exposed to conditions judged inadequate or requiring improvement, according to statistics released this week.

Data relating to 147 homes – including one residential special school and two secure children’s homes – shows most facilities in the region were good, with one in five outstanding, as of the end of August.

However, Ofsted inspectors uncovered significant issues at 16 homes, three of which were operated by local authorities in Durham, Middlesbrough and Newcastle.

Reports reveal the catalogue of problems encountered by inspectors during visits to the facilities, which were all ordered to make statutory improvements.

One damning document, about a home run by Middlesbrough Council, said staff should undergo training on the risks of “county lines behaviour” and said they did not make enough of an effort to be vigilant and protect their young charges.

It said children spent “significant time with people who members of staff know nothing about” and that police had been used to help manage behaviour “more often than is reasonable”, suggesting a move to the home had led to some young people becoming involved with youth offending services for the first time.

Earlier reports said that concerns regarding child sexual exploitation were diminishing there and incidents of children going missing had reduced.

In February, the facility was deemed to require improvement and subsequently closed, with alternative accommodation found for residents.

Staff were retrained, a new manager appointed and the home's focus changed to care for youngsters with autism and learning disabilities. It is now said to be good.

A Middlesbrough Council spokesman said: “The well-being and safeguarding of children in our care is of paramount importance.

“We are committed to ensuring they are looked after by staff who care about them, in settings which cater for their needs and help to prepare them for the future.

“Where improvements are required – as highlighted by Ofsted – we will always respond quickly and appropriately.

“That approach is reflected in the fact that of Middlesbrough Council’s four children’s homes, two are currently rated as ‘good’ by Ofsted and two ‘outstanding’.”

Echo analysis of reports linked to three homes ranked inadequate at the end of August show two have made improvements since then and are now considered to be good.

Two of those facilities were based in Newcastle, with one operated by the city’s council and the other by the Percy Hedley Foundation. The third is in Bishop Auckland and run by Duty of Care Limited.

Reports were not available for the council-run home, but staff at Foundation’s facility were accused of failing to act after seeing unexplained bruising on some children and of compromising health and safety by failing to provide adequate levels of care and not following the home’s child protection procedures. Staffing issues meant one young person was cared for by 19 people in just a week.

Compliance notices were issued in June and accommodation restricted. The latter condition was lifted in September after a reassessment found some improvements had been made, though the home still requires improvement.

In July, “serious and widespread failures” were uncovered at the Bishop Auckland home, where staff were not properly vetted before working with children. DBS checks were not carried out and references not verified. Safeguarding improvements carried out since mean the facility is now rated good.

Staff at a home run by Durham County Council struggled to manage disruptive and dangerous behaviour, resulting in high levels of aggression and physical harm to children and staff.

Bullying allegations at the facility, which requires improvement, were not recorded adequately and staff were said to be “firefighting” daily incidents. The new manager is said to have a clear plan in place to drive improvements.

John Pearce, Durham County Council's corporate director for children and young people's services, said: "We are committed to ensuring all children in County Durham grow up in a safe and supportive environment.

"This is especially important for vulnerable children and those in care, and we have been working closely with the team at the children’s home to address the issues raised by Ofsted. 

"Since the last inspection we have reviewed the existing policies and processes, particularly those relating to admissions and discharges, children who go missing and those which underpin good communication and support both within the home and our partners. 

"We are committed to investing in the learning and development of our team, listening to young people and ensuring our practice promotes safety and wellbeing.

"Our relentless focus on improving services and working together with young people, families and partners will ensure progress continues to be made."

Government figures show that children’s services at eight out of 14 councils were classed as inadequate or requiring improvement as of the end of August, though North Yorkshire was one of just seven authorities nationwide to be rated ‘outstanding’.

Sunderland was inadequate while Darlington, Durham, Middlesbrough, Newcastle, Northumberland, Redcar and Cleveland and Stockton were all deemed to require improvement.

Mr Pearce from Durham County Council said: "The most recent Ofsted inspection of all children’s services delivered by the council found that the experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers are good and we are determined to build upon this.

"The inspection also highlighted the many improvements we have already made across the service. While we are disappointed that the progress that Ofsted picked up on did not result in an overall rating of good, we do recognise that there is room for improvement and plans have already been made to address these.”