Pressure mounts on Cardiff out-of-home care provider Premier Youthworks amid whistleblower and legal advocate complaints

Premier Youthworks managing director, Lisa Glen Part two: Lawyer slams blood and broken glass in Premier group homeAN EMBATTLED out-of-home care provider is poised to pick up new government contracts worth millions of dollars, despite a sustained attack by whistleblowers and legal advocates who say it is failing some of Newcastle and Canberra’s most vulnerable children.

Premier Youthworks is under fire on multiple fronts, with complaints spanning its governance and financial management to allegations of blood and broken glass being inside one of its residential homes and a staff member being threatened with a meat cleaver.

The fresh concerns have been raised as part of a jointNewcastle HeraldandCanberra Timesinvestigation into the company, which cares for more than 80 children across NSW and the ACT.

They also arise close to 12 months after a scathingFour CornersABC TV expose turned the spotlight on Premier Youthworks. Questions have now been raised about whether state government regulators are providing proper oversight of the sector.

A source familiar with Premier Youthworks’ inner workings said he was stunned at what he regarded as a lack of meaningful action by either the company or the state government since the broadcast, while standards – he believed –had further deteriorated.

“My way of looking at it is that this time next month, it will be 12 months since theFour Cornersreport and nothing has been learnt and nothing has changed,” he said.

“Much to my shock –I wasn’t prepared for this.”

NSW Department of Family and Community Services spokesperson.Herald at the company’s headquarters in Cardiff.

She defended the quality of care received by the children, and said the criticism amounted to the isolated concerns of a small number of disgruntled former employees.

“If I wanted to do it to be rich, I would have chosen a much easier business,” said Ms Glen, who remains the company’s sole director and shareholder.

“I would have worked at Dusk and put nice candles on the shelves. Like this is tough, it’s really really tough … people can sit back and say that, but they can come and walk in my shoes for a little while.”

Premier Youthworks has received more than $44 million in taxpayer funding since 2013, shared across 15 residential care homes in the ACT and 20 in the Newcastle region.

Children and teenagers are grouped together in Premier homes when they are unable to live with their families, often because the government has decided they are at risk of abuse or neglect.

The NSW Department of Family and Community Services (FACS) has been tendering for new residential care contracts, due to begin in 2018, and sources said Premier Youthworks was in the frame to renew, or potentially grow, the number of children in its care.

Following theFour Cornersbroadcast, FACS launched a review of the company, which is understood to have concluded in October. But the department has refused to publicly release its findings or comment on what action, if any, has been taken as a result.

“A range of matters are being followed up with Premier Youthworks in the course of contract management,” a FACS spokesperson said.

Ms Glen would not be drawn on what ground had been covered by the review, but admitted it had highlighted the need for more “transparency”.

“It wasn’t about us holding things back, we just need more transparency in our reporting because, again, we’re different to other agencies within the sector,” Ms Glen said.

She also said FACS was now “fully understanding” of controversial leasing arrangements surrounding a number of Premier’s group homes in Newcastle.

Twelve of the homes are owned by Ms Glen and leased back to Premier Youthworks through a series of trusts linked to her super fund.

Taxpayers foot the bill for the rents paid by Premier Youthworks to Ms Glen, which in some cases arewell above market rates.

Ms Glen denied she was charging the taxpayer exorbitant amounts and defended the arrangements as “common practice” within the sector.There was good reason for the inflated rents, she argued.

“They are not normal rentals,” she said. “There’s modifications that are made and there’s the upkeep of them. What people don’t really understand is that each of these houses is a big risk to me as well.”

LINKS: Premier Youthworks’ sole director Lisa Glen is also a director of Beam Wellbeing, a psychological services provider at Cardiff.

Additionally, Ms Glen is a director of Beam Wellbeing, a separate psychological services provider, also based at Cardiff.

When asked if she benefited financially every time Premierreferred one of its children to Beam for counselling, Ms Glen said that was not the case.

She had“stepped away” from dealings between the two organisations.

“I’m not part of any of the negotiations,” she said.“So if the people that are looking after the clients here don’t believe that Beam’s the best provider, so be it, they go to another person.”

Ms Glen dismissed suggestionsemployees might still feel obligated to refer children to Beam, saying“everyone is acting in the best interests of the kids”.

Another recent incident that apparently struck a nerve with staff occurred in August, when Ms Glen demanded that government funds being used to set up internet access at Premier’s group homes be used to install wi-fi at her personal residence.

In an email obtained by Fairfax Media, she expressed her annoyancewith delays in connecting her property.

“Really annoyed about this given that I need access and I would expect my house to be reasonably high on the priorities,” she wrote. “Would really appreciate you letting me know what is going on please … as doesn’t [sic] inspire much confidence to be honest.”

The taxpayer had footed the bill because Ms Glen had decided to work from home and it was a “standard office requirement”, she said.

“There were significant NBN connection issues lasting several months and, as such, requests were eventually made to make connection to Lisa’s house a priority,” a company spokesperson said.

“In fact, until recently, after some five months, there was still no stable connection.”

Sources said the installation fee was $1500.

“The installation fee was not this high, however a business grade NBN connection is more costly than standard connections,” the spokesperson said.

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