Premier Youthworks investigation part two: lawyer slams broken glass and blood in Canberra home

RAISING CONCERNS: An excerpt from a letter written by a Legal Aid lawyer to the ACT government in April, after visiting a group children’s home run by Cardiff-based company Premier Youthworks. Part one: pressure mounts on Cardiff out-of-home care providerVulnerable children have been discovered living in a group home with broken walls, blood on the door and smashed glass in the kitchen.
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The property in question islocated in Canberra and run by PremierYouthworks, a company headquarteredin Cardiff.

Children from troubled backgrounds wind up in itsgroup homes when they are unable to live with their families.The company provides around-the-clock care forover 80 children across Newcastle and the ACT.

Concerns about the state of the home have been uncovered in a joint investigation by the Newcastle HeraldandThe Canberra Times.

A Legal Aid lawyer wrote a strongly wordedletter to the ACT government in April, after visiting the property.

“The house was in an unsatisfactory condition. There were at least two windows broken, broken doors, many holes in the walls, and broken window fittings,” read the letter.

ALARM: A lawyer has criticised conditions inside a Premier Youthworks group home in Canberra. A picture from inside the home, showing bed sheets on the floor.

“The children appeared to have dragged their mattresses in to the living room, which was extremely messy.

“The most concerning observation was of blood on one of the doors and broken glass in the kitchen.”

In the same letter, the lawyer broachedconcerns about the children’s safety in such an environment.

“This letter is not intended as a ‘finger pointing’ exercise,” they wrote.

“However it is important to make [it] clear … there are real concerns about the children’s safety in the current placement.”

Three days later, the lawyer fired off another letter to the ACT’s Public Advocate,seeking help in having the property cleaned up.

“As you will be aware, I hold concerns about the children’s current placement with PremierYouthworks,” the letter read.

DAMAGED: A picture of a wall inside a Premier Youthworks group home. Graffiti scrawled on the wall has been blurred to protect the identity of children.

“Please advise whether you have, or intend to attend the property and what, if any, involvement the Public Advocate will have in addressing concerns around housing for the children.”

Pictures from inside the property showed clothes strewn across the room, a mattress without sheets on the floor and a large hole in a wall marked with graffiti.

The ACTPublic Advocate Jodie Griffiths-Cook has regular meetings with PremierYouthworksto monitor the care of children in residential homes.

She said her office had not received any complaints about the company.

“PremierYouthworksstaff engage positively with this process and have been responsive to concerns when raised,” she said.

“For example, in early 2017 the Public Advocate became aware that a couple of properties had been damaged and needed repair.

“My office raised these concerns with management staff in PremierYouthworks, who took action to respond to the concerns in a timely manner.”

In the ACT, Premier Youthworks operates as part of a consortium of organisations, led by the Barnardos Charity.A Barnardos spokeswomansaid all residential care homes operated under a strict “quality assurance program” of weekly and monthly inspections. Property damage could be a result of “challenging behaviours” displayed by children in care.

“Damage is always repaired as a priority,” she said. The spokeswoman said the conditions illustrated in the photos obtained by Fairfax Media had been addressed as a priority at the time.

A former Premier Youthworks employee, who did not want to be identified,was highly critical of the condition of homes in Canberraandclaimed the situation was also “heading that way” in Newcastle.

But Premier Youthworks managing director Lisa Glen rejected the allegations. She saidwhile property damage did occur from time to time, the company had rigorous processes to deal with it, including an on-call system for staff.

“That young person could have been raging all night and we’ve had police and ambulance there and then as soon as that young person’s taken away we would bring people in to clear that up,” she said.

Chief executive Jared Gillard said there was scheduled maintenance and weekly inspections of Newcastle properties, which werechecked by the Ombudsman, Office of the Children’s Guardian, community visitors and FACS.

“If the young person’s just done it and then someone’s walked in or taken a photo of it, then you know, it’s that point in time,” he said.

“It’s not reflective of the environment.”

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