Council seeks to close down its children homes

EXCLUSIVE: A council that recently won praise for piloting social pedagogy is set to close all its children's homes under a controversial proposal to be considered at a cabinet meeting next month, Community Care has learned.

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Essex Council is set to close all its children’s homes under a controversial proposal to be considered at a cabinet meeting next month, Community Care has learned.

The Tory-led council, which has previously been praised for its innovative approach to residential child care including the use of social pedagogy, has allegedly notified its staff that all council-run homes will be closed and the children moved into alternative placements, if the proposal is accepted.

The plan, thought to be the result of budget cuts, could see as many as 119 members of staff made redundant and alternative placements arranged for 36 children.

In December, the council confirmed plans to sell off its seven children’s homes to private companies and voluntary organisations, announcing they would face closure if no buyers came forward.

Conservative Councillor Sarah Candy, cabinet member for children’s services, said the council’s decision “was about improving the purchasing of residential care placements to best meet the individual needs of children and young people in Essex and ensure they have the best possible future outcomes”. 

The latest move was revealed via a forum for children’s home workers this week following a letter sent by a teenager living in one of the homes to prime minister David Cameron.

In the letter the 16-year-old said: “I am writing to you because I am worried and scared about my home getting taken away from me. Essex County Council are closing down all their children’s homes and this concerns me deeply.”

The teenager, who said he had been through 15 foster placements before settling in a children’s home, told Cameron he believed there was “a need for consistent residential care”.

“I have made good attachments with the staff and whilst I am aware the homes are closing due to money, I think this is not a good enough reason for me to be taken away and moved on to another placement, making it my 17th move which will upset me more.

“I would like to send a clear message to you that my views, thoughts and feelings count as a representative of young people in children’s homes,” he wrote. He asked the prime minister to consider such views when making decisions about all young people in care.

Candy said today: “Following the December decision by cabinet, a market analysis has been carried out over the past few months to help us understand the interest in our residential homes across the sector. This has resulted in the recommendation to close all mainstream homes. This proposal will be taken to cabinet in June.”

She said children currently living in the homes have individual care plans in place “which detail where they will move on to if the decision is made to close the homes”.

“There are 119 employees affected and a period of consultation will be implemented should the decision be made to close the homes.  Essex County Council will look to redeploy staff where possible but if this is not appropriate notices of redundancy will be issued,” Candy said.

In 2008, Essex County Council became the first UK council to pilot social pedagogy – a system of theory, practice and training that supports the development of the whole child – in its children’s homes. The council developed a three-year training programme for staff and was described as pioneering by leading figures in the residential child care sector.

Community Care is awaiting a response from Number 10.

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