Children attending after-school care in one of Scotland’s most deprived areas were given credit to buy fizzy drinks, sweets and crisps and asked to work off their debts by vacuuming, cleaning or other chores, according to a report.

As a result of a damning inspection report and failure to address many of the problems it had highlighted, the Care Inspectorate is now threatening the service, in Paisley’s Ferguslie Park, with closure.

The project, entitled Caring (Children at Risk in Need of Guidance), has until November 27 to make improvements or the care watchdog said its registration would be cancelled. It was rated “unsatisfactory” on three measures – the standard of care, staffing and management. The environment in which children were looked after was rated “weak”. 

The project provides after-school care to up to 30 children from local primary and secondary schools.

However, over a two-day visit on September 26, the care watchdog found that the manager did not know how many children attended the service, as the only register was handwritten on a laminated sheet which was wiped clean each day. Children ate meals and undertook most activities in a cold gym hall, and three fire exits serving it and three playrooms were locked, and shutters closed.

The watchdog’s report says it is concerned that meals offered were not meeting children’s nutritional needs, while staff lacked elementary food hygiene certificates. Food preparation measures were not sufficient to prevent infection.

Inspectors found staff lacked training and some had been recruited without proper vetting procedures and in some cases without even taking up references. 

Despite the project’s name, the report said there was little evidence of support for the children or any therapeutic work with those who had difficult family circumstances or other worries. 

The scheme was awarded £1,260 in February 2013 by the Big Lottery Fund (BLF) Scotland’s 2014 communities fund to help it offer “physical play activities” for 30 children attending after school and holiday sessions.

According to BLF, the money helped to pay for indoor and outdoor tennis, football and garden games equipment, scooters, board games and high visibility vests.

But when inspectors visited in September, the 14 children present were unable to even play outside out as there were not enough staff to supervise them. “Children told us they wanted to go out and play,” inspectors noted, adding “opportunities were missed to use areas of the environment to support children who may have been having a bad day or needed time and space to themselves.” 

While care regulations say children  must have access to healthy snacks, CARING ran a tuck shop where children could buy crisps, sweets and fizzy drinks. 

The report says “Children told us that if they did not have sufficient  money, they would be allowed to obtain ‘credit’ for the purchase of sweets. 

“They also told us that if this was not paid they would work this off by completing extra chores such as hoovering and cleaning.”

Children also told inspectors that their parents  could be contacted if tuck shop debts were not cleared. “this process of ‘credit’ created uneasiness” among the children, the report says. 

The Herald understands that these practices no longer happen, after the Care Inspectorate  demanded they cease.

The report lists numerous other problems including the fact children walk to the project from school without written consent of parents and the lack of a  procedure to record accidents and other incidents. Few children had written care plans and those that did had key information missing, while the acting manager confirmed staff were unaware of children’s individual medical needs.

The charity is run by a management committee, but this had not met since January 2017.

Inspectors  also suspected the driver of a minibus was not properly insured, and the charity was providing a breakfast club and had run camping trips without being authorised to do so. 

After the September inspection, The Care Inspectorate issued an immediate improvement notice warning the charity it would lose its registration, forcing it to close, if  problems were not addressed by October 26. 

After a return visit inspectors issued CARING with an extension, after hearing staff had received child protection training. It now has until November 27 to address the outstanding concerns. 

When the Herald contacted the CARING project, a staff member who would not identify herself declined to comment. 

A spokesman for the Care Inspectorate said: “A recent inspection of this service found the quality of care experienced by children to be unacceptable. We issued an enforcement notice which details the areas which need to improve. 

“We have since visited the service again and found some evidence of limited improvement. However, we need to see further improvement, and will continue to monitor this service closely.

“Anyone with a concern about a care service can contact us on 0345 600 9527.”