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‘Avoid at all costs’ Parents and former employees on suspended Hitchin nursery

Former staff and parents have shared their experiences following the closure of a Hitchin childcare service.

Bluebells Childminders – which offered services for babies, toddlers and children up to 12 – had its registration suspended last week following a full inspection by Ofsted.

Ofsted’s most up-to-date report explained that Bluebell’s registration was suspended because they “believed children may be at risk of harm”.

This latest inspection, conducted on June 20, responded to concerns that Bluebells was not meeting requirements.

This follows three consecutive Ofsted assessments which ranked Bluebells between ‘requires improvement’ and ‘inadequate’ since April 2018.

Welfare Requirement Notices, which serve as clear action plans for improving services, were posted to Bluebells after each inspection.

Former Bluebells employees have been speaking out against the conditions they worked under – with some saying issues were already present a year ago.

Connor Wells, who lives in Hitchin, started working at Bluebells on June 7, 2018. Having applied for the role a month earlier and obtaining his Disclosure and Barring Service number (DBS), he was understandably excited for his first day.

But Connor would end up quitting just over a month later after discovering some serious concerns with the nursery.

During his time at the nursery, Connor claims he was not asked for any proof of qualifications, did not have his DBS number checked by Bluebells and was asked to change nappies, despite not being DBS checked by the organisation.

Hayley Fowler, pictured with her daughter, has experienced both sides of Bluebells. Picture: Hayley Fowler

Connor says: “For six weeks I was working at the nursery and they had practically no idea who I was.”

Connor says that this lack of DBS checks meant potential serial killers, rapists or paedophiles could have been in contact with children.

He goes further to say that he was asked to actually show the managers how to complete a DBS check – which the government says is a legal requirement for any unsupervised contact with children. Shocked, Connor refused and left Bluebells a day later.

Similar concerns were raised in an Ofsted report on March 22. Within the report, inspectors noted: “The provider has failed to take prompt action to ensure all staff are suitable to work with children. This compromises children’s safety.”

On April 23, Ofsted did report that all staff had a DBS service check in place.

Hayley Fowler has her own unique perspective on the Bluebells saga, having experienced Bluebells as both an employee and a parent.

She started working for Bluebells in February, and her four-year-old daughter attended the nursery for 10 months. Her time working at Bluebells did not last long – five weeks to be exact.

Hayley says she only realised how bad things were after she started to see how things unfolded behind the scenes.

According to Hayley, the garden was full of stones and broken tiles, medication was left within reach of children and if the nursery ran out of clean nappies, kids would be sent home in their dirty underwear.

After witnessing this, Hayley said she felt compelled to report the company to Ofsted. Hayley says she is “so glad my daughter no longer attends”.

If the nursery does reopen following its suspension, Hayley has some lasting advice for any parents looking at the service. “I would tell them to avoid Bluebells at all costs.”

Connor and Hayley also had arguments with Bluebells over money – something that both employees and parents of children who attended Bluebells have been complaining about online.

Hayley says she is owed £400 from Bluebells and knows a parent in the process of a court battle with the company.

Connor says he was only paid after threatening to share his story with the press and other parents.

According to Ofsted, the next steps for Bluebells are to reduce or eliminate the risk of harm to children under their supervision.

Ofsted says it is a requirement to provide a copy of its most recent inspection report for all parents and guardians of children who attend the setting.

The Comet could not reach Bluebells Childminders and senior staff for comment.

01 July 2019 | Jacob Thorburn | The Comet