Save this home - it's a lifeline for parents

Essex County Standard: Gary Smith, headteacher at Market Field School. Gary Smith, headteacher at Market Field School.

A HEADTEACHER of a special needs school has criticised proposals to axe a respite home for disabled children.

Gary Smith, headteacher at Market Field, in Elmstead Market, said Essex County Council will be “abdicating its responsibility” if it closes Lavender House, in Stanway.

The council is reviewing its provision of short-term respite breaks for disabled children to save money.

Lavender House, which has 12 beds and provides overnight care for children, and another home in Harlow are under threat.

Mr Smith said: “I am very concerned about the plans.

“We are worried about parents’ lives. These people don’t know what it is like to have a family break down, with siblings ignored because one child needs a lot of attention, or what it is like to wake up every morning with a child you love but who will wear you to the brink.”

Mr Smith has asked Essex County Council to extend the consultation, which ends on January 6.

He said: “I feel as though the decision has already been made.

“The consultation is almost impossible to access and only asks the questions they want the answers to.

“It is unjust to expect parents to fight for something which should be theirs as a right. It is not their job, it’s ours.”

Essex County Council says care will be provided by foster carers or private providers instead.

The authority says Lavender House is only running at 80 per cent capacity, but parents have told the Gazette they have been on a waiting list for years.

Mr Smith said: “The council needs to demonstrate the future policy will do at least the same service or better quality.

“It reminds me of 15 years ago when they wanted to close special schools, and now they need to build new ones.

“You could take a cynical view that the threshold for respite days was raised so they could say it is not being used fully, but they could fill it up and make it cost-effective.

“I fail to see the business case for independent operators coming in because what is to stop them charging the council whatever they like?

“It would be a lovely Christmas present for it to be kept open.”

An online petition launched by parents against the closure plans of Lavender House has now collected more than 2,000 signatures.

All heads in agreement

MARKET Field headteacher Gary Smith has collected views from staff at other special schools to present to Essex County Council.

He said their comments represent 500 years of experience from 20 headteachers.

They all say the closure is a bad idea.

Market Field caters for children aged five to 16-years-old with learning difficulties, and specialises in supporting youngsters with autism.

Altogether, 16 pupils at the school are eligible for a total of 344 nights each year at Lavender House.

Mr Smith said other schools in the area would be eligible for more.


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