Children’s home to be shut down

A children’s home which has attracted a string of complaints about anti-social behaviour is being closed down.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 30th May 2014, 9:12 am
Relief: Councillor David Watts on Brindle Lane, Bamber Bridge
Relief: Councillor David Watts on Brindle Lane, Bamber Bridge

The decision by Ofsted to shut the facility in Brindle Road, Bamber Bridge, run by Clayton-Le-Dale-based Aurora Care (NW) Ltd, comes after repeated visits by the police and complaints from neighbours about threats, vehicle damage and attacks.

Bamber Bridge councillor Dave Watts said locals, including a 95-year-old resident, were relieved about the decision to shut the home.

Ofsted said: “After neighbours complained about noise we inspected this children’s home to check that it is operating within the rules. We have worked with the police too. We will publish an inspection report about the matter.”

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‘I saw one of carers being punched by one of the kids’

Neighbours living near a troubled children’s home today said they felt so intimidated by youths on their street that they had gone to stay elsewhere to escape.

The facility in Brindle Road, Bamber Bridge, is scheduled to close on Friday, June 6, after new places were found for the children.

However, inspection body Ofsted have declined to reveal the reasons for the closure to the Evening Post. They said they had inspected it following noise complaints and would publish a report later.

Bamber Bridge Coun Dave Watts said locals, including a 95-year-old resident, were “over the moon” that the property was closing.

The home, run by private firm Aurora Care (NW), which opened in October 2013, is listed on the Independent Children’s Home Association website as providing accommodation and support for young people aged 12 years up to 17 “who display sexually harmful behaviour, self-harm, and have a history of offending behaviour, drug and alcohol use”.

When the Evening Post visited the home to speak to the manager, two boys aged 16 threatened to mug the reporter and cut her fingers off for her rings.

One neighbour has been so worried about his young family being intimidated, he has taken them away overnight on more than one occasion, and Coun Watts said his wife has been intimidated for money in the street.

Questions have also been asked as to whether the correct procedures were followed when the house was turned into the children’s home. The planning process was not entered into, because planning consent was not needed for a home of this size.

One neighbour, who asked not to be named, said: “I’ve been extremely frustrated by South Ribble Council who say that there is no requirement for planning permission because of there are less than six children living there.

“But in my view, it is very different from residential usage – they’re not living there as a family – this is a business, with staff and things like business insurance.”

He added: “On the Thursday before Easter I saw one of the carers being punched over the bonnet of a car by one of the kids, and was so worried by it that I sent my wife and children away overnight.

“I’ve also been threatened at 11pm at night, and there’s constant obscene threats and intimidation.”

Another resident said: “The kids are wandering around, threatening people, staring at people through their living room windows, and car bonnets have been scratched. The police are never away.

“There’s one older lady who is extremely worried about safety, and there’s nice families with young children concerned that some of these kids in the home are extremely troubled. They were never told that this was going to come to the area.”

Coun Watts added: “A council officer is looking into how legal it was to open and operate the house as a home. It didn’t go through the planning process, and a lot of people are worried that this opens up a loophole and sets a precedent.”

Police said that initial calls to the property were mostly related to children going missing, but more recently have involved anti-social behaviour.

Sergeant Shirley Osborne said: “In recent months, Lancashire Constabulary has received a large number of calls to the care home, mainly in relation to children going missing.

“However, in the last couple of weeks these incidents have escalated and include anti-social behaviour.

“We have been working with the care home owners and our partners, including South Ribble Borough Council (SRBC), social services and Ofsted, in order to try and alleviate the issues.”

Coun Matthew Tomlinson, Lancashire County Council’s cabinet member for young people, said: “We have been made aware of the imminent closure of the children’s home in Brindle Road and have already found alternative placements for the two young people from Lancashire who were placed there.”

Despite being contacted several times by the Evening Post, Aurora Care (NW) Ltd refused to comment.

Debate over what’s best growsas council-run homes close

More than one third of English councils no longer own or run any mainstream children’s homes.

Lancashire County Council (LCC) is one of the local authorities running the most – with 15 facilities providing places for 90 children and young people aged between 13 and 17. However, the proposal is to reduce this number by a third over time.

Already LCC has axed a number of its homes over the past 15 years, meaning more children are placed into foster homes or independently-run homes.

LCC argues that transforming the service is the main reason for closing homes – not savings.

In 2002, Unison wrote to Coun Chris Cheetham, then Lancashire County Council’s portfolio holder for social services, warning of a “growing crisis”, when it was revealed Marl Hill and Garth House in Sandycroft Lane Preston, Barnacre Road in Longridge, Rydal House and Derwent Road in Chorley and Blake Gardens in Great Harwood were under threat.

Regional organiser Tim Ellis claimed the problem would lead to children at risk being placed in inappropriate placements, being sent out of the county away from their home area or left in the place of risk.

Since then, others including Slyne Road residential unit in Lancaster have been closed.

This week, Mr Ellis said that his fears were well-founded.

He said: “The concerns are still there. Private children’s homes are being used more and they tend to be more expensive.

“Some of these independent homes are of dubious quality as some of them are run for profit.”

Coun Matthew Tomlinson, cabinet member for young people, insisted that the right approach is being taken.

He said: “Lancashire has more than 1,600 children and young people in care and only about five per cent are accommodated in privately run children’s homes.

“The vast majority are looked after in foster homes, which is always our first preference.”

Jonathan Stanley of the Independent Children’s Homes Association (ICHA), which lists eight privately-run homes in the Lancashire area, said there is positive story to be told about privately-run children’s homes.

He said: “For every pound spent in a children’s home, the social return is over six pounds.

“Every children’s home is a small to medium employer. These are local jobs and the money stays in the area.”