A rise in the number of applications to change family houses into residential care homes for vulnerable children is raising concerns in some communities across Lancashire.
In recent months, there has been a notable increase in applications for changes of use of this type, with applications tabled for semis in Walton-le-Dale and Bamber Bridge, and a detached house in Longton. An application to change the use of a detached house in Penwortham was withdrawn at the end of last month.
Applications have received dozens of objections, most citing concerns over behaviour, noise and parking problems, but providers say the homes are needed to help children achieve better results and be better prepared for everyday life.
Lancashire County Council said that despite trying to get children into foster care “wherever possible”, it is looking to develop both larger homes for four to six children, and smaller homes for up to three children, as “somewhere where they won’t feel different from their peers and school friends.”
Government investigations have revealed that while the number of local authority homes has decreased, the number of private sector homes has continued to grow, which might be due to it being more cost-effective to “buy” a specialist place from privately-run providers who have a portfolio of properties and can benefit from better economies of scale.
Dozens of objections were raised against Cygnet Health Care’s plans to change four-bedroomed detached house at Stonefield in Penwortham into a residential institution for children aged between seven and 17 years old.
Cygnet proposed to use this property as a “three-bed complex home”, with three young people and three members of staff in the property at any time, but have now withdrawn the plans after a restrictive covenant came to light. Despite this, they say there are in the process of finding a replacement property.
One local resident said neighbours had been “very concerned” about the proposals, with elderly people living near the property unable to sleep at night because of the worry.
Coun Keith Martin, who supported the residents with their objection, said: “The residents are happy with the withdrawal, they’re relieved.
“They were worried about the children going to be there, but the issue they were mainly worried about was changing the house into a business premises.
“It’s a peaceful estate and they (Cygnet) said that you wouldn’t know from the outside that there had been a change, but then it came out that there would need to be a new external door, there would have to be a fire alarm, up to six or seven people coming and going, extra traffic and so on.
“It was a worry and some of the residents had anxiety issues. They feared it was going to be a care factory and not a care home.”
At the end of November, Cygnet had an application approved to change a semi-detached house in Riverside, Bamber Bridge, into a children’s residential homes for seven to 17-year-olds, as well as a home for one child in Rydal Avenue, Walton-le-Dale.
Barry Cotterill, children’s services Lead for Cygnet Health Care said: “These types of homes are a response to the growing numbers of vulnerable children who require the safety and support that is offered within a residential care setting.
“Our aim is to create a ‘home from home’ for the children living there: a place in which they feel safe, secure, comfortable and cared for.
“We know that providing care in an environment that is more like a family home can often help the children achieve much better results and be better prepared for everyday life.
“These homes therefore focus on building meaningful and lasting relationships, and supporting the children to access the support they require in order to become the best possible version of themselves.
“It must be remembered that the children we support may have suffered past traumas or neglect, so our specialist teams work with them to provide therapeutic support to help them recover and to give them the chance to lead healthy, fulfilling lives. The programmes of care and therapy we provide aim to build the living skills, insight, education and confidence of those in our care.
“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 per cent are rated good or outstanding, we provide vital support for children and adults in communities across the UK, including in the North West.”
On December 18, Cherish, a Blackpool-based provider of support services for adults and children, was granted permission to open a children’s home for up to three residents on a full-time basis in Arkholme Drive, Longton.
Residents will be aged between eight and 18-years-of-age and are said to be in the “less complex category”.
In a planning statement to South Ribble Council, Cherish state: “This home will only support young people who behave pro-socially, have no involvement with the police or youth offending teams, have no criminogenic factors such as missing from home or gang involvement or substance misuse. These young people are in full-time education and live long term as a family unit with support (our parenting model).
“They will engage with the community in a positive way and we fully expect that the community will be enhanced as aresult and in our experience in other areas of Lancashire where we provide such support.”
Plans for Arkholme Drive are that there would be up to two staff members on shift at any time and that shift changeovers would be 9.30am and 9.30pm, to minimise the impact on traffic in the area.
Cherish say they can demonstrate “over four years of zero negative impact on the community” from their other homes.
One objection said: “I am concerned about the privacy of my home, the safety of my children, as well as the noise whilst my children are trying to sleep”.
Another states: “Arkholme Drive, Longton, is a wholly inappropriate property in a wholly inappropriate setting”.
In 2016, the Commons Education Committee heard that the cost of a care home placement in England is more than three times that of sending a child to Eton - in Lancashire the figure is currently on average, £3,600 a week.
Government adviser Sir Martin Narey, who was asked to review children’s homes for the government, defended the high cost saying children in residential care were the most challenging and needed increased levels of supervision, but committee member Ian Austin said some private companies were making large profits out of the child care system.
He gave the example of a private equity firm saying it could guarantee an 18 per cent return on investment in certain children’s homes.
One brochure, he said, promised an annual profit of £214,000 on a four-bedroom home with a 75 per cent occupancy, rising to £625,000 if it were full.
Sir Martin said it cost £3,000 a week to accommodate a child in a care home, compared with the £800 cost of a fostering placement, and that local authorities will look to exhaust fostering options before placing a child in a children’s home.
Lancashire County Council (LCC) said “wherever possible” when a child needs to go into care, it looks to place a child in a home with foster parents. However, there are some children where other forms of provision, such as children’s homes, are required.
Edwina Grant, executive director for education and children’s services at LCC, said: “We want to ensure our children have a place that they can call home close to their families and communities, somewhere where they won’t feel different from their peers and school friends.
“That’s why working with care providers to open homes which allow our children the opportunities to remain close to their home is so important.
“They will be used exclusively for children looked after by Lancashire County Council.”
Due the high demand for children’s home placements locally and nationally, it can be difficult for LCC to find suitable children’s home placements in the local area for Lancashire’s looked-after children.
To address this, the council says it is working closely with three providers to open a small number of additional children’s homes to be used exclusively for Lancashire’s children in care.
These small number of additional children’s homes will be used in addition to existing council run children’s homes.
PANEL: Facts and figures on children’s residential care
Sir Martin Narey’s 2016 independent review of children’s residential care stated that while the majority of children in care live with foster carers, about one in 10 children in care live in a residential children’s home.
It states that children living in children’s homes today tend to be older and “significantly more challenging than earlier populations”, with just over three-quarters aged between 14 and 17 years old.
The majority are male and Sir Martin found at that time, 53 per cent of children living in children’s homes have a statement of special educational needs or an Educational, Health and Care plan, and a further 28 per cent have identified special educational needs without statements or EHC plans.
The report also states that in 2013, about 62 per cent had clinically significant mental health difficulties; and, 74 per cent were reported to have been violent or aggressive in the past six months.
In 2015, 15 per cent of children in children’s homes received a conviction or had been subject to a final warning or reprimand during the year.
The report goes on to say that there may be more than one reason for a child being placed in a home, but the primary reason is their abuse or neglect (45 per cent), followed by family dysfunction.
For 25 per cent of children, the children’s home is their first care placement, but almost a third of those in children’s homes have had six or more previous placements.
Thirty-five per cent of placements in a home last less than a month; 47 per cent last between a month and a year; 10 per cent last between one and two years; and just eight per cent of placements last for more than two years.
The report adds that local authority-run homes have a higher number of staff on average, compared to privately run homes, irrespective of the size of the home and staff in privately run homes tend to work longer hours on average.
When the report was published, privately-run homes paid significantly less per hour than local authority homes, with an average of £9.39 per hour against £13.28 in local authority run homes.
The voluntary sector figure was £10.15.