Cheshire East to set up its own children's homes

By Belinda Ryan - Local Democracy Reporter

21st Mar 2023 | Local News

Westfields, Cheshire East Council's HQ in Sandbach. (Photo: Cheshire East Council)
Westfields, Cheshire East Council's HQ in Sandbach. (Photo: Cheshire East Council)

Cheshire East is to set up its own council-run children's homes to provide a loving and supportive environment for youngsters who can't live with their own families.

The council will take over the running of two independent homes in Crewe and Macclesfield this year, following a recent mutual decision to terminate the contract with the current commissioned provider.

It also plans to develop another three-bed council-run children's home, which will provide two medium term beds and one emergency bed, by the end of February next year.

Kerry Birtles, director of children's social care, told the children and families committee on Monday: "The outcomes for those children [in residential care] are an area of deep concern for us, hence the reason why we are trying and have high aspirations to do something differently here.

"We're not unique. There are many local authorities around the country that are now moving into a position where they are seeking decisions to open their own residential children's homes."

She said the reason she was so enthusiastic about the proposal was because 'we must do more to keep our children living in Cheshire East, in the borough, where we can have a greater influence over their holistic outcomes in terms of education, integration into their broader community with friends and family'.

The council is keen to dispel the stigma often attached to children's homes and is eager for local residents to accept the youngsters as a part of the community.

Samantha Walker, who has a background of overseeing the opening of children's homes, has just joined Cheshire East as its new head of provider services.

She told the committee: "The word 'children's homes' often comes with a certain amount of connotation and stigma, the children's homes that we're talking about are really holistic, therapeutic, supportive homes for children. We are talking really loving, supportive environments for our young people."

Cllr Lesley Smetham (Gawsworth, Con) said: "If we can get some sort of residential buy-in to it as well, it would be quite helpful before we get going."

Mrs Birtles replied: "Our children will succeed if they know that they are surrounded by a solid community that wants them to live there.

"You can read articles around children's homes and people not wanting them necessarily on their streets. It's really important that we work very hard to make sure that community members know that the right support is there to support these children, because these are the communities they were born into, this is absolutely where they belong."

Poynton councillor Jos Saunders (Con) agreed.

Cllr Jos Saunders (Photo: Cheshire East Council)

"I think sometimes residents don't actually understand that these children are not criminals – that seems to be sometimes the view – they're children who are there through no fault of their own, and they've often had very bad experiences," she said.

Committee chair Kathryn Flavell (Elworth, Lab) said she was very much in favour of bringing children's homes in-house.

Cllr Kathryn Flavell (Photo: Cheshire East Council)

"The points made about the stigma of children's home is really valid – and I think it immediately conjures up a large building with 20 or 30 children living in it and that is still public perception," she said. "These are quite small, two bedroom, three bedroom."

The committee voted unanimously to approve the transition of the two homes currently run by an independent provider and to develop its own three-bedroom property.

It also plans to develop at least one further council-run children's home by the end of 2025, although a decision on that would be taken by a future committee.

     

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