Northamptonshire local authority children’s home to close

St John’s secure unit in Northamptonshire is to close due to a lack of referrals, Northamptonshire county council has said.

The unit, which was opened in 1996, provides 16 beds for young people who have either been referred for welfare reasons or through the criminal justice system.

Around 10 beds a night needed to be occupied throughout 2006-7 for the unit to remain open, but this had not been achieved, the council said.

A council spokesperson added the council had made “exhaustive” attempts to keep the unit open, but despite negotiations with private provider Serco and the Youth Justice Board no deal could be reached.

The exact closure date has not yet been determined.

The Secure Accommodation Network, which represents 24 local authority secure children’s homes in England and Wales, last year warned that homes could be forced to close because of lack of referrals. SAN said there were about 40 vacant welfare beds “in any one week” out of a total of around 150, and predicted this would increase.

In 2005, Southwark Council in south London approved of the sale of Orchard Lodge, the capital’s last local authority secure children’s home, to the Glen Care Group.

Children’s campaigners and penal reformers have long viewed the homes as a more suitable option for vulnerable children in the criminal justice system because of their high staff to children ratio.

However, a survey by the Department for Education and Skills last year found councils were not using Laschs because they “lacked confidence” in the quality of their services.

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