£10m care bill for children

Blackpool Council leader Simon Blackburn
Blackpool Council leader Simon Blackburn
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Almost £10m has been spent on shipping vulnerable children out of Blackpool in the last three years because there are not enough suitable care facilities in the town.

While experts fear the costs will continue to spiral because of a ‘not-in-my-backyard’ response to attempts to open new children’s homes in the town, Blackpool Council leader Simon Blackburn said the need for converting or building new homes was “constantly under review.”

Some of Blackpool’s most ‘at risk’ youngsters have been re-housed hundreds of miles from their families and communities, in places as far away as Wales, Yorkshire, Cheshire and Manchester.

The cost to the children is considerable, with experts fearing they could be deeply affected by loss of contact with relatives and loss of their Lancashire identity.

And the cost to the local taxpayer is significant.

Last year alone Blackpool Council forked out £4m to house children in other parts of the country.

Figures obtained by The Gazette under the Freedom of Information Act show Blackpool Council costs for rehousing vulnerable children in other parts of the country in the last three years were:

2010/11 - £2,216,484

2011/12 - 3,217,671

2012/13 - £3,937,349

Blackpool currently has 470 children placed in care with foster parents. About 10 percent are housed out of the area.

Mary Ann Foxwell, advice development manager at the Family Rights Group charity, which offers family welfare support, said: “Family, friends, and local identity are all very important to children and to helicopter them into an unfamiliar environment is far from ideal.

“Wherever it is safe to do so getting the child back with the family should be the aim.”

But attempts to open new care homes in Blackpool have previously faced opposition.

An attempt to set up a facility in Preston New Road, Marton, by Advanced Childcare sparked an immediate fight-back and well-orchestrated campaign by residents to block the plans.

Hundreds of protesters battled against the home for troubled teens in 2010.

Councillors voted against the scheme – to transform a detached house into a facility for six youngsters – after residents raised fears over potential rises in crime and disorder.

A planning inspector then threw out an appeal by Advanced Childcare against the council’s decision in 2011.

Around the same time, residents also lodged a petition against the same agency’s plans to open a children’s home, again for six, at Squires Gate Lane, converting a rest home.

Blackpool councillor Sarah Riding, who sits on the town’s fostering panel, said the council’s own children’s homes had just received glowing reports from government inspectors, but added: “It’s much cheaper to look after these children in Blackpool but sometimes there just aren’t suitable places.

“Sometimes exploited children or children at risk of kidnap need to be somewhere safe.”

She added Blackpool faced significant problem with the ‘toxic trio’ of drugs, alcohol and mental health problems and said: “In terms of the toxic trio we’re off the scale, this does add to the element of Nimbyism.

“People get scared and there have been campaigns against care facilities, but it’s a storm in a tea cup.

“If you ask the people living around the council facility at Argosy Avenue in Grange Park for example they will tell you they are perfect neighbours.”

And Blackpool Council leader, Coun Simon Blackburn, said: “The point at which it makes sense to build another children’s home varies enormously.

“It is not about capacity, it’s about the right facility in the right place.

“Our key focus is to safely bring down the number of children in care, which is too high.

“We constantly review our children’s home requirements. But children who live in institutionalised children’s homes do not have very good outcomes.

“We tend to focus more on fostering, which is one of the best ways of doing it – it keeps young people in the local area and in their own school.”

Ann Allen, of the Mereside Tenants and Residents Association, who was among those who campaigned against a children’s home on Preston New Road, said: “This property was not suitable for use as a children’s home for a number of reasons, including it was on a busy main road with traffic. It was not a case of ‘not in my backyard’.”

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