“This is a well-managed home. Attention to detail and a thorough understanding of each child’s needs means that they all receive high-quality care and nurturing from committed staff.”
That’s the verdict from Ofsted inspectors following their visit in February to the Atkinson Secure Children’s home in Exeter.
They gave the home a resounding ‘good’ on all fronts – the progress and experience of the children resident in the home; the quality of their education and learning; their health; how well the children are helped and protected; and how effective the home’s leaders and managers are.
It continues their unblemished record as being a good home for the last six years.
“Children make good progress during their time at this home,” say inspectors.
“(That) progress is acknowledged and celebrated, helping children to start to take pride in their achievements and build their confidence and self-esteem.”
Children “feel listened to and valued”…and “increasingly feel safe in this home.”
The Atkinson Secure Children’s home is registered to accommodate up to 12 young people at any one time. It’s one of very few secure children’s homes in the country, and children in the home are placed here by local authorities across England.
The young people in Atkinson’s care have generally experienced trauma within the home environment and also often within the community. Such experiences mean that they’re at significantly higher risk of school exclusion, exploitation, mental health difficulties and substance misuse.
Their time in Atkinson allows the staff and other professionals to develop a comprehensive understanding of the young people’s needs and following the trauma recovery model reintroduces a sense of safety, structure and routine in the context of warm, nurturing and trusting relationships.
The intention for all young residents is to be able to return safely back to the community and re-engage in normal, teenage activities and relationships.
The home has had considerable staffing pressures in the last two years, due to coronavirus and other ill-health on top of vacancies, and yet it is the quality of its staff that makes the service a success story.
“Staff are warm and compassionate and show a genuine fondness for the children they care for,” say inspectors.
“Children quickly build trusting relationships with staff.”
And “staff have a clear understanding of each child’s individual needs.”
Their direct work and conversations with children are “undertaken with sensitivity and help children to start to make sense of their experiences.”
“Staff are resilient and nurturing when children are distressed.” They “provide compassionate care and identify and support children’s potential and aspirations.”
And the trust that staff build means that the children “are able to share information about previous experiences…which also informs individual therapeutic work with children.”
The Department for Education also regulates the home, with structured education continuing onsite.
“The curriculum is carefully tailored to meet the needs of each individual child,” say the Ofsted inspectors, adding that “children are often keen to go to school, participate willingly in lessons and build positive relationships with the school staff.”
“Teachers use their skills well and children produce work of a good standard.”
Outside learning, children are encouraged with their interests.
“They are supported to try new activities and develop their interests,” say inspectors.
“Children are offered a wide variety of activities both in and outside the home.”
For example, “children contribute to the development of their menus and there is a good variety (of meals) on offer. Inspectors noted positive relationships between the chefs and the children.”
But the coronavirus pandemic, which held up Ofsted’s more recent visits until now, has been a significant challenge for the home and its staff.
Inspectors note that “the impact of COVID-19 and other staff sickness, although significant, has been very well managed and has ensured the continued safety and well-being of the children.”
“The healthcare team has continued to provide safe care to the children throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.”
They describe the children as receiving “good-quality care from the health and wellbeing team.”
But there are some things that the home could do better, say inspectors.
They note that children are taught on a one-to-one basis, and as a result they do not have the opportunities to develop their interpersonal skills and the skills they’ll need when they progress to settings in the community or to mainstream education.
And they go on to recommend that managers maximise those opportunities for children to work and learn together in lessons, in order to help develop their social skills and behaviours.
We’re responsible for the home, and Helen Bowkett is the home’s Manager. We’re pleased overall with the assessment.
“Over recent years, we have worked hard to develop our trauma-informed, therapeutic parenting model of care. While the high walls and secure doors are necessary to ensure physical safety, our focus is on helping young people feel safe in their relationships with others. With support and nurturing, our young people have the potential to overcome the adversity they face and make every success of their lives. Our role is to provide the safe space for them to learn to trust again and to develop.”
Councillor Andrew Leadbetter is our Cabinet Member with responsibility for children’s services, which includes the children’s home.
“This, again, is a very positive inspection by Ofsted, which is a delight to see.
“I’m pleased that inspectors saw the supportive relationships that the children have with our excellent staff.
“The last two years has been a very real challenge, for us all as well as the home. But the home and its staff have managed well, and have continued to improve the service despite those challenges.
“There is work still to do – we do not rest on our laurels – and the recommendations in this report are already being written into our practice within the home.
“Thank you to the staff, of course, and the Northbrook Managers for their continued support and dedication, but thank you to the children and young people who join us at the home for showing us the people they can be and the adults that they can become.”