Parents in Walton-le-Dale have raised concerns over the potential impact of a new residential facility for a vulnerable child on the welfare of their own children.
Plans have been approved to convert a property on Rydal Avenue into a so-called “solo home”, which would provide places for children aged between seven and 17 who have suffered from abuse or neglect. However, only one youngster would be living at the address at any given time.
Cygnet Healthcare, which will operate the service, says that two members of staff will be on hand around the clock and that the facility will be run like a “home from home”.
But more than a dozen neighbours have objected to the plans, many of whom spoke in person at the South Ribble Borough Council planning committee where the decision was made. When permission was granted, one audience member branded councillors “idiots”.
“I hope one [of these homes] moves in next to you – you’re a disgrace,” he said.
Earlier, the meeting heard fears over the potential for distress to be caused to children already living in the area.
“We don’t know what circumstances this child will have been through,” said local resident Martin Smith.
“I’m aware that they need support, but if they have been damaged, that will bring a risk to the area. Will they need restraining and will my child be able to hear that through the walls or see it through a window?”
That concern was echoed by other objectors who said that the facility was better suited to a detached property in a different area – and also expressed worries over anti-social behaviour.
Speaking on behalf of Cygnet Healthcare, Graham Thorpe said that the aim of the service was to “establish meaningful relationships with the child and provide a positive role model”.
“This new home will provide much needed care for a vulnerable child who requires the safety and support that is offered within a residential care setting. It will be managed as a typical household with the clear rules, routines and structure that any family would have,” Mr. Thorpe said.
The company was criticised for failing to consult residents and inform them about the nature and turnover over potential occupants. The meeting heard that the average stay of a child in the property is expected to be around eight months.
But committee member Caroline Moon warned that people were in danger of making incorrect assumptions about the type of children who would be in need of the facility
“As many abused and neglected children become withdrawn as a result of their experiences as choose to demonstrate that abuse through their behaviour.
“If a piece of work doesn’t take place with the community, we are setting off on a road which is fraught with difficulty,” Cllr Moon warned.
In approving the application, the committee ordered that an acoustic assessment be carried out to determine whether the walls of the property should be soundproofed before the first child moves in. No other physical alteration to the property is planned.
In a statement issued after the meeting, a spokesperson for Cygnet Healthcare said: “We are aware that concerns have been raised by local residents and will be engaging with the community over the coming weeks to address any queries that they may have.
“Maintaining good relationships locally is a priority. We are always conscious of our neighbours and our surrounding environment and we welcome queries regarding the service we provide. We are committed to working as a part of the community and we are open to addressing any concerns.
“Our aim is for this to be a ‘home from home’ for the child living there: a place in which they feel safe, secure, comfortable and cared for. The home will focus upon building meaningful and lasting relationships and supporting them to access the support they require in order to become the best possible version of themselves.
“Our programme of care and therapy aims to build the living skills, insight, education and confidence of those in our care. The children we support may have suffered past traumas or neglect and our specialist teams work with them to provide therapeutic support to help them to recover and give them the chance to lead healthy, fulfilling lives.
“Cygnet has been providing a national network of high-quality, specialised services for over 30 years in partnership with the NHS and local authorities. We are privileged to look after children to help make a positive difference for their lives. With more than 140 services, of which 85 percent are rated good or outstanding, we provide vital support for children and adults in communities across the UK, including in the North West.”