Regulator criticises RNIB for “catalogue of serious” safeguarding failings

The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) has been rebuked by the Charity Commission for placing vulnerable children in the charity’s care at risk of harm.

The regulator has also slammed the charity for “comprehensive failings of governance and oversight,” in an inquiry report released this week.

Failings at the charity led to its beneficiaries being placed “at undue risk of harm and allowed harm or distress to come to some children with complex needs”.

The report follows an investigation, which launched in March 2018, into serious concerns about the care of children at the RNIB’s Pears Centre children’s home in Coventry. The centre was rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted in 2017 and has since closed.

The Commission accuses the RNIB of being “too insular and dismissive of criticism” from parents and inspectors.

This came despite “disproportionally high number of basic medication errors” at the RNIB
Pears Centre, found the regulator.

The charity is also criticised by the Commission for “inadequate staff training”, a reliance on agency staff, “poor” recruitment practices and “inadequate oversight”.

The Commission also addresses the charity’s “ineffective and dysfunctional governance”. The regulator cites an example where trustee committees that were meant to oversee its regulated homes did not meet for 10 months.

“This is one of the worst examples we have uncovered of poor governance and oversight having a direct impact on vulnerable people,” said Charity Commission chief executive Helen Stephenson.

“A catalogue of serious failings were allowed to occur, because the charity’s governance was simply too weak for the trustees in charge of the charity to do the job that beneficiaries needed them to do.

“No child should ever be put at risk of harm, and this case is all the more troubling because it happened in the care of a charity.”

“Providing services to children with complex needs is a significant responsibility, and when charities provide such services, the public expect rightly these to be delivered with compassion, selflessness and empathy, as well as competence.

“Charity trustees should therefore ensure that systems of governance and management help, rather than hinder their charity from delivering on its purpose and meeting the needs of those it is set up to help.”

She added: “RNIB has long been an important national institution, and, for many people with sight loss, it provides a lifeline that they should be able to trust. I am encouraged by the charity’s commitment to address its shortcomings and hope that it will get back to that position of trust. We are determined to ensure that it does.”

The charity has been handed an official warning by the Charity Commission. It has also been issued with a legal order holding the trustees to account for implementing an action plan requiring “wholesale change to governance, management, culture and processes”, said the regulator.

The charity will remain under ongoing statutory supervision until it has carried out these reforms, said the Commission.

RNIB chief executive Matt Stringer said the reports findings are “the low point in our 152-year history”.

He added: “It is clear that we seriously let down children and their families, staff, volunteers, supporters and blind and partially sighted people who make up the RNIB community. We are sorry to every one of them.

“We fully accept the Charity Commission’s recommendations and the inquiry report acknowledges that we are making good progress in implementing them. We have made significant changes to RNIB and are continuing to embed improvements to ensure that these failings can never happen again. We are committed to emerging from this as a better, more determined, and more effective organisation.”

Stringer took over as chief executive in 2019. The previous permanent post holder was Sally Harvey, who resigned following investigations into the RNIB Pears Centre.

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