Council chief offers hope in fight to save disabled children's respite home

Essex County Standard: Dick Madden Dick Madden

A CARE home providing respite breaks for disabled children will not close unless the alternatives are “fit for purpose”, a council boss has pledged.

Families who have enjoyed short-term breaks in Lavender House, Stanway, have reacted with uproar to proposals to close it.

Essex County Council has said it needs to save money and could provide alternative care through foster carers or buying placements at other homes.

But an online petition at www.change.org against its closure has so far attracted nearly 1,800 signatures in just a week.

In an interview with the Gazette, Dick Madden, county councillor for children and families, said he will only agree to the closure if alternatives are viable.

Mr Madden said: “We will not close any of these homes until I am satisfied the alternative arrangements are fit for purpose. I will not do anything without being convinced the alternative is appropriate.

“I want to reassure families the priority is the children, not buildings or anything like that, and I recognise how critical these breaks are for families who do a great job at home but need respite.”

Mr Madden admitted saving money was a factor but insisted the popularity of Lavender House was in decline.

The county council needs to save £215million over the next three years after cuts in government grants.

He added: “We take the view children are often best cared for in a family setting closer to their home and school and generally in the area where they are from rather than a couple of fixed sites.

“The underlying issue is about the savings we need to make and this is an element in our decision-making as well. We are looking at savings but this is secondary.

“The use of the homes has declined over the past few years, which leaves spaces and has an impact on us.”

Mr Madden said he had spoken to a number of families already and was aware of claims Lavender House was not running below capacity.

Some parents said they had been on a waiting list for a year.

Families have also said foster carers are not always able to deal with the complex needs many of the children have.

He added: “This is a very sensitive consultation about some of the most vulnerable people in our county.

“I want as much information as possible, in particular from families.

“I recognise there appears to be a different view from parents about the reduced use levels and I have taken it on board and put the question to officers and will get an answer.

“I also recognise the concerns parents have about foster care.

“I was not aware of the petition and it will be accepted in the consultation.

“But I encourage those who have made it and signed it to also take the time to write to me or go online and fill in the questionnaire because the more information I have the better and easier it is for me to make a palatable informed decision based on facts rather than emotions.”

Mr Madden added options such as selling spare placements to those who wanted additional nights was a possibility.

n To take part in the consultation visit essexinsight.org.uk/consultations

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