RNIB chief executive Sally Harvey has quit after the Charity Commission and Ofsted launched investigations into the charity over safeguarding concerns at a children's home.
The Charity Commission announced today that it has opened a statutory class inquiry RNIB and its subsidiary, RNIB Charity.
The inquiry was triggered by serious concerns about the oversight and management of the Pears Centre for Specialist Learning, a residential setting for children and young people in Coventry, run by the subsidiary charity.
Eleanor Southwood, chair of RNIB, issued a statement on the investigation, announcing Harvey’s departure.
She said the charity will appoint an interim chief executive as soon as possible.
Harvey was made chief executive in October after being RNIB’s acting chief executive since October 2016.
Southwood said that a few weeks ago RNIB received a notice from Ofsted, which regulates its children's services, proposing to cancel its registration to run the children's home in Coventry.
This was in response to a series of increasingly poor monitoring reports criticising RNIB's running of the service.
She said the charity now had to demonstrate to Ofsted substantial improvements by mid-April, with the regulator making a decision by mid-May.
She said: “The children at Pears Centre are our number one priority. We recognise the seriousness of Ofsted’s concerns and we’re truly sorry that the level of service we’ve provided has not been good enough.
“In January we put in place a Service Improvement Plan, but it’s clear that we should have acted more quickly to make changes. We are now working closely with Ofsted to improve the service and we’re doing absolutely everything we can to put things right at Pears Centre.
“Following on from this Sally Harvey has decided to step down from her position as chief executive of RNIB. We will be appointing an interim chief executive as soon as possible.
“We are sorry that we have let down the children in our care and the people who loyally support RNIB. We are now doing absolutely everything we can to put things right and make sure the young people at Pears Centre receive the very best care and support.”
An Ofsted spokesperson said: “Our priority is to ensure the safety and protection of the children in the care of this provider and we are working closely with the local authorities involved to do so.
"At the same time, we are supporting the Charity Commission with their inquiry, while carrying out our own regulatory processes with regards to the children’s home. We cannot comment further until this process is complete.”
On 2 March, the trustees of the two charities reported a single serious safeguarding incident, which had taken place at the Pears Centre, to the Commission.
On 16 March, the subsidiary charity also reported to the Commission several serious incidents that had taken place during the previous year, as well as notice of intended action by Ofsted.
The Commission met Southwood and RNIB’s deputy CEO on 27 March before opening an inquiry opened on 29 March.
The Commission said: “The incidents raised concerns that the subsidiary charity may have consistently failed to comply with regulations designed to safeguard and protect vulnerable children.”
The investigation will examine the governance, management and oversight of the charities’ safeguarding arrangements.
In particular, it will consider the trustees’ knowledge and oversight of what happened at the Pears Centre and controls that were or should have been in place, as well as the charity’s liaison with and reporting to relevant statutory agencies.
The inquiry will focus on the trustees’ oversight of safeguarding arrangements in the charities’ schools and care homes and whether all relevant safeguarding incidents were reported to the Commission.
The Commission’s investigation will examine the extent to which the trustees of the charities have taken and are taking reasonable steps to protect users at the Pears Centre from harm.
The Commission plans to publish an interim report in May.
RNIB has established its own independent review to consider its safeguarding arrangements, which will work alongside the Commission’s.