Residential Special Schools in Doncaster – statement by National Children’s Bureau and Council for Disabled Children

The Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel’s Review of Residential Special Schools in Doncaster focuses on the shocking abuse and harm suffered by 108 children placed at three independent settings operated by the Hesley Group.

The Panel commissioned Dame Christine Lenehan, Strategic Director at the National Children’s Bureau and Director of the Council for Disabled Children, to be the lead reviewer of this work.

The findings from the first phase, published in October 2022, found a culture of harm and abuse, including evidence of physical abuse and violence, neglect, emotional abuse and sexual harm.

The second phase report, to be published in mid-2023, will explore the changes needed to the wider system so that these most vulnerable children are helped to live better lives in a safe, loving and positive environment.

Dame Christine Lenehan, Director of the Council for Disabled Children at the National Children’s Bureau, said:

“The children at the heart of this review are amongst the most vulnerable in society, yet the system failed them, and they experienced sustained abuse and neglect by the very people who should have been looking after them.

“It is evident that the residential settings responsible for these children did not have a clear vision of how to safeguard them from abuse. The lack of accountability across the residential care system means there is too little ownership for the safety of children with complex needs and, consequently, many have suffered, or are at risk of suffering, harm and abuse. We urgently need a shift in thinking, so that these children’s right to live safely in supportive and nurturing homes is guaranteed.

“The next phase of this review is a chance to explore in depth how the system can be reformed so that these failings do not recur, and children and young people with complex needs can grow up safe from harm.

“We have met with families, care providers, and professionals working in a wide range of statutory and voluntary services, and they share our commitment to ensure these children are better safeguarded and their rights to childhood are recognised. By putting a spotlight on both how we care for children with complex needs and how we support their families, this review must act as a real driver for change.”

Find out more about NCB's work on safeguarding children