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ZIMBABWEAN, UK CHILDREN’S HOME’S worker Tatenda Shoniwa groomed girl, 17, into sex.
Children’s homes close after BBC reveals failures
“You don’t expect your trauma to only really begin once you’re in the care system,” says Michela
Three children’s homes have closed and two more rated “inadequate” following a BBC investigation into a firm making huge profits.
The homes, previously rated as good or outstanding, were re-inspected after the BBC found children had reported being groomed and assaulted.
We can also reveal the company failed to fully report some serious incidents.
Calcot Services for Children does not accept the BBC’s allegations and says profits were not excessive.
Following the BBC’s investigation in June, Ofsted re-inspected seven of the company’s homes in southern England. We have now learned the regulator for England has rated five homes “inadequate” – and three of those have now closed. At one, “serious and widespread failures” were found with staff not providing some one-to-one care which local councils had paid for, echoing our previous findings.
Our continuing investigation has spoken to more than 20 current and former Calcot employees – and has seen new leaked documents and emails. The BBC can now reveal:
A former resident has spoken out for the first time, describing how she was groomed by a carerA former member of staff claims a manager “covered up” a serious sexual assault allegation involving two childrenCalcot failed to report two alleged incidents involving children to a local authority safeguarding managerFive whistleblowers – all Calcot staff – contacted Ofsted with concerns more than a year agoCalcot has used a business structure which is legal, but not subject to the same financial scrutiny as limited companies
Calcot does not accept the BBC’s allegations but says an independent review will address issues raised by our investigation and Ofsted. It says it disputes the BBC’s characterisation of its profits and says they could not be compared with other companies which are structured differently.
Names have been changed to protect identities of former residents and staff.
Groomed by a carer
Michela was groomed aged 17 by a man originally employed as the company’s marketing manager but then redeployed to a home where older teenagers are given more independence – known as supported living.
Speaking out for the first time, she says she wasn’t moved from the residence for months after reporting the abuse – and stopped washing and eating because she didn’t want to leave her room.
“The only safe place I had in that building was the bedroom, as it was the one place nothing had happened in,” she says, now aged 19 and waiving her right to absolute anonymity.
“I’ve never had a man that’s shown so much interest in me,” says Michela
Michela’s grooming began when Tatenda Shoniwa started following her on social media and messaging her about her life – sometimes until the early hours of the morning.
“I wasn’t used to that. I’ve never had a man that’s shown so much interest in me, never had a parent figure,” she says.
Shoniwa is now in prison for abusing his position and sexual activity with a child. Michela says she feels “completely betrayed” by some of the other Calcot staff members, who she believes were aware of what he was doing but did not report anything.
“Coming into care you’re coming away from trauma”, she says. “You don’t expect for your trauma to only really begin once you’re in the system.”
The BBC has also now learned that Ofsted discovered that staff at multiple homes did not have adequate training.
At one, now closed, inspectors said almost no-one had been trained to handle ligatures or cases of child sexual exploitation – despite it housing children with documented risks of both.
In addition, we now know that five managers have left Calcot in the past 18 months after developing concerns about how the company was being run. We had already heard from whistleblowers who told us they believed the company was putting profit before childcare – and inadequately staffing some homes.
Another teenager, Tara – who has learning difficulties and is autistic – was supposed to have two support staff to help, but she says she was often left alone. She frequently asked her local authority social workers if she could move elsewhere, she says.
Tara says she was often left unsupervised
Calcot then decided to move her, despite staff concerns, into one of its supported living placements where she would have more independence rather than full-time care. The 17-year-old, who lived there with an adult in their early twenties, says she was able to regularly go missing without staff noticing.
“The staff didn’t really do anything because it’s an adult placement. They do their own thing – on their phones 24/7,” she says. “I felt like they weren’t looking after me.”
Calcot says it follows appropriate referral processes so children are not placed in unsuitable homes.
Management also failed to correctly report allegations of child-on-child sexual abuse, the BBC can reveal.
We previously reported that two children had been found in May 2021 undressed and without supervision. They both later alleged they had been sexually assaulted.
A former support worker, Mia, told us management assured her the incident had been reported to authorities – but Ofsted told the BBC it hadn’t.
Now, another ex-staff member says she and a manager discussed the children’s allegations, but in a later email, seen by the BBC, the manager provided draft wording for a report to social workers which only said that they had been “found together in each other’s rooms” – with no reference to the sexual assault allegations.
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The former employee says she knew it was wrong to exclude the allegations from her report and believed she had been left “powerless” when asked to do so.
She says it was “completely immoral” not to fully report the children’s claims.
Former support worker Mia describes what happened as a “cover-up”. “[The manager] didn’t have the welfare of the children as a priority,” she says.
Calcot says it did report the incident to Ofsted and the relevant local authority designated officer – known as a “LADO” – who is responsible for safeguarding. But we know this only happened after our initial investigation – more than a year after the incident.
Failing to report
Two other incidents in Calcot homes in the past year also weren’t immediately reported to a local authority designated officer – even though they are expected to do so.
One involved a boy who alleged he had been punched by a male member of staff while being restrained. It is understood the child later denied the assault took place – but nevertheless a LADO should have been told. Calcot says this decision not to report the alleged assault was taken by the home manager, not a senior manager.
The other incident involved another boy who said their arm had been trapped in a car window by a staff member. While not reported to a local authority designated officer, Calcot says it was reported to Ofsted and the boy’s social worker – and that the company always makes the relevant reports as required.
If you have been affected by any of these issues in this story you can visit BBC Action Line.
The BBC has now learned that five Calcot whistleblowers contacted Ofsted about their concerns before we began our investigation. When we published our initial findings in June, all the homes were rated good or outstanding.
Ofsted says it does not investigate whistleblowing complaints specifically but says action against Calcot was already under way when the BBC report was released.
Last week, Ofsted’s chief inspector, Amanda Spielman, said the law needed to change to give more powers to inspect providers of children’s homes – which, she said, were inferior to those for adult care homes.
Already, in light of the BBC’s June report, the Children’s Commissioner for England, Dame Rachel de Souza, has called for “radical reform”.
Calcot’s profit margin in 2021 was 36% – more than twice the level termed excessive by a government watchdog
Calcot has used a business structure called a partnership, the BBC has found, where accounts are subject to less stringent reporting obligations than a limited company.
Ofsted says while it is aware of providers across England operating as partnerships, it does not know the total number.
Three local authorities have told us they were asked by Calcot to direct payments into a bank account which is used for its partnership.
The BBC understands that money was paid back into the firm’s limited company account – which recorded huge profits last year. Calcot’s profit margin in 2021 was 36% – more than twice the level termed excessive by a government watchdog.
Calcot told us the use of the partnership accounts was an “administrative error on the part of the local authorities”. It added that a number of factors, including built-up investment, made its profits across homes and schools appear bigger than they really were.
The owners of Calcot, Sukhbir and Harvinder Singh, declined to be interviewed. In June, the company said it prioritised safeguarding all children in its care and its homes were all staffed correctly.
Its lawyers say the BBC has a distorted view of the company and its sources have an axe to grind. They add that Calcot’s whistleblowing policy allows concerns to be raised anonymously, so they can be quickly addressed.
The Department for Education declined to be interviewed. It said it was investing in raising standards and increasing the number of children’s home placements. BBC