Essex

Essex children's home closures prompt criticism

A move by Essex County Council to close children's homes has been criticised by experts and parents.

In the past year, all 12 of the mainstream care homes run by the council have closed as part of a move to focus on foster care and privately-run homes.

A woman from Essex, whose 15-year-old daughter has been in care since the age of four, told BBC Inside Out there was too much emphasis on foster care.

Her daughter has been moved between carers, and often outside Essex, 38 times in 11 years.

The mother said foster care was not suitable for all children and the decision by the council was a mistake.

'Confused by other children'

"I think children need stability, they need understanding and being with foster carers is only short term," she said.

"Units can be long term and can help children to understand why they are there and how to move on with the things they are feeling.

"They can be confused by other children at foster placements."

Another mother, from Harlow, said her son had settled really well in an Essex care home and she was "devastated" when it closed.

But Councillor Ray Gooding, the council's cabinet member for children's services, said foster placements were the closest alternative to a child living with his or her own family.

"Certainly the children that go, for whatever reasons, into care homes don't have good outcomes," he said.

"Their education outcome is not as good, their lifelong health tends to be worse so really if we can get the nearest thing that equates to their own loving family that's the best we can do."

'Negative experiences'

Jonathan Stanley, head of the National Centre for Excellence in Residential Child Care, said he challenged that view.

"I think children have different needs," he said.

"The outcomes currently show that children in children's homes are doing less well, but they have more negative life experiences to be overcoming."

In the year ending March 2012, Essex had 1,485 children in care, of which 1,125 (76%) were in foster care.

It is estimated it costs a local authority £700 a week to keep a child in foster care, compared with £2,700 in a care home.

BBC Inside Out East is available to television viewers in the Look East region at 19:30 GMT on Monday, and later to all regions on the iPlayer.

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