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Social worker blows whistle on abuses at privately-run children's prison

Ofsted calls on government to act over Oakhill Secure Training Centre

Published by Professional Social Work magazine, 11 November, 2021

A social worker has blown the whistle on serious safeguarding concerns at a privately-run children’s prison.

The worker highlighted concerns of abusive treatment of children as young as 12, cover-ups and corruption at Oakhill Secure Training Centre in Milton Keynes.

Ofsted has since issued an ‘urgent notification’ on the G4S-managed centre following a full inspection in October after children's charity Article 39 contacted the authorities with the social worker’s concern.

Ofsted's findings included:

  • Children accommodated in a “dilapidated environment”
  • Frequent incidents of violence and force being used by inexperienced and unskilled staff
  • Children being locked in their rooms for 19 hours a day and up to 23 hours in previous findings
  • In-house investigations of safeguarding concerns contrary to statutory guidance
  • Safeguarding systems in “disarray”
  • Children being left to have access to adult channels in their rooms

Ofsted has urged the government to act.

Article 39 sent a letter to Milton Keynes’ director of children’s services and the chief inspectors of Ofsted and prisons following the allegations made by the social worker.

The charity’s director Carolyne Willow said:“We are immensely grateful to this whistleblower for contacting Article 39 to raise very serious concerns about child protection. This is not an easy thing to do, given the potential impact on present and future employment.

“So far it appears the inspectorates have acted quickly in response, but inspection reports do not, on their own, protect children.

“Yet again, it appears there have been systemic and serious failures to protect detained children and their fundamental rights. The first priority must be to ensure children are safe and that they are receiving appropriate help to start their recovery from any abuse, including independent advice and assistance from lawyers.

“Then a wider, statutory inquiry is required to probe why mistreatment happened, why it wasn’t stopped earlier and what safeguards are required to protect children deprived of their liberty in future.”

Issues at Oakhill go back to 2017 when the centre, which accommodates 80 boys aged between 12 and 17 serving custodial sentences, was judged inadequate by Ofsted.

In 2019 the watchdog found the centre was using “pain-inducing techniques” and reported 132 assaults on children, 214 attacks on staff and 11 fights over a six-month period.

A follow-up monitoring visit this September by Ofsted, the Care Quality Commission and the Prison Inspectorate found “widespread faiings that are having a significant impact on the care and wellbeing of children”.

The latest full inspection report is yet to be published.