By Sas & Marty Taylor

Parents and relatives of children who use threatened Charles House in West Heath met today with a senior council executive.

The meeting held at the home on Wednesday morning saw parents, family members, supporting councillors and other supporters (including campaigners from Stirchley and Cotteridge Against the Cuts) discussing the threat of closure with Birmingham City Council’s head of Children, Young People and Families Eleanor Brazil.

The home, which provides respite care for children with severe learning disabilities, is threatened with closure as the council carries out a consultation on how to make £65 million savings in their budget for 2012/13.

As part of the consultation, all services offered by all of the city’s nineteen children’s homes, including those for children with disabilities, are under review.

No reassurances

Eleanor Brazil listened to the concerns of parents but could offer no reassurances that Charles House would not be closed.

“I can’t reassure them because we’re in a very difficult financial position […] we are required, understandably, to look at options within our children’s directorate and this is one of the areas that we’re looking at, amongst many other areas.

“One of the things that I’ve guaranteed to do, is to go away and to think about all the things that have been said to me this morning.”

Eleanor Brazil, Head of Children, Young People and Families, Birmingham City Council

Karl Phillips, whose 12 year old son uses Charles House, said that families were remained fearful that Charles House would close.

“It is an essential service. If we lose this, then there are families that are going to break down, because Charles House is the only thing that is keeping families together. It’s a service that should be celebrated, not just cut like this, just to save money. It’s invaluable, in my eyes.”

Karl Phillips, Parent

Mum Tracey Hadley did not feel reassured either.

“I think the decision has been made, no matter what we say. What we are asking for is them not to close this – there were no guarantees that that wouldn’t happen.”

Tracey Hadley, Parent

Alternative care

Possible alternatives such as foster care and private care were suggested to the attendees.

“Foster care, I think it’s going to cost a lot of money to train parents up. […] I know my house is as safe as I can possibly make it, but when my daughter displays her challenging behaviour, I don’t know how somebody else would cope. […] here you’ve got sensory room, you’ve got specialised facilities, you’ve got more members of staff.”

Tracey Hadley, Parent

Mother Sarah Johnstone was also very worried that a foster care service would not be adequate. She was especially concerned that service would be managed by a private company.

“The point is, the foster carers have got a choice of clients. They’re not going to choose clients with high medical needs, who trash their house, who are potentially aggressive, who’ve got obsessive behaviour, who’ve got massive health and security issues, when they’ve got a range of other clients they can choose.

“These placements will break down. They can’t possibly recruit the foster carers to take this – that’s cheaper, but it’s just not a viable option, it’s not sustainable and it would not be in the best interests of our children.”

Sarah Johnstone, Parent

Eleanor Brazil insisted that there are already foster carers working in the city that could deliver a good service.

“I think for families who struggle to look after children with very complex needs, it’s often very hard for them to believe that any other family could care appropriately for their child.

But there are families that can do that […] for any individual parent, their child is the most important child in the world and it’s hard for them to believe that anybody else can look after them as well as they can. […]

There are people out there, who are skilled and experienced, who can look after other people’s children well, and do do it at the moment. […]

I know that’s not right for every family and every child and we need to have good assessment processes that help families to think about the options for them.”

Eleanor Brazil, Head of Children, Young People and Families, Birmingham City Council

Charles House under-subscribed?

Karl Phillips explained how talk of under-subscription at the home was unfair, as he feels many families who should be offered a place there, are not. He described how it took around five years to win his own son a place there. Many other parents told us how hard they have had to fight to get their children cared for at Charles House.

Sarah Johnstone was also of the opinion that the fact that Charles House is under-subscribed is due to social services’ reluctance to refer children, and not that a need doesn’t exist.

“I think that they’re being falsely naive there. They know that social services don’t refer families with problems on to the care services they need, because they’re expensive. They know that they try and palm them off and you have to really fight to get a proper assessment of needs as a carer and then get directed to a correct service. They know that, they must know that. Especially the disabled children’s team, how can they not know that that is the correct process?”

Sarah Johnstone, Parent

We asked Eleanor Brazil if she would be looking into whether children who had a need for residential respite placements were failing to get referral.

“I’m going to look at the processes […] some of them are talking about experiences that are several years ago. What we need to do is to check whether that’s still the position.”

Eleanor Brazil, Head of Children, Young People and Families, Birmingham City Council

Continuing the campaign

Parents have vowed to keep up the fight for their treasured service.

“We’ve just got to keep on fighting and rallying for it to stay open, for our youngsters. Because the majority of youngsters who we’re representing, our children, have said that they want this. This is their choice.”

Tracey Hadley, Parent

Labour party council candidate for Birmingham Northfield, Brett O’Reilly is supporting the campaign.

“I feel that we were left with more questions than answers. “I always think these things are worthwhile, because at the very least it raises the profile of Charles House. […] It’s certainly my job as a council candidate to make sure that they do listen, so I would like to think that they do.”

Brett O”Reilly on Charles House (mp3)

Brett O’Reilly, Labour council candidate for Northfield

Councillors offering their support are Mike Leddy and Dr Barry Henley of Brandwood ward, where three of Charles House’s clients live.

“It was a case of ‘We’re here to consult’, but I’ve always had an opinion that when someone says ‘We’re here to consult’ the decision has already been made but it’s not down in writing, so therefore, the battle continues to keep such a facility like Charles House going. I think it is necessary the parents keep on giving their support to the campaign and putting pressure on the administration to ensure that Charles House remains open after the consultation.

Cllr Mike Leddy on Charles House (mp3)

Cllr Mike Leddy, Brandwood

Longbridge councillor Andy Cartwright has also proclaimed his support for the campaign.

“[…] if this centre goes, the effect that’s going to have on these familes, well, I can’t imagine. But you’ve also got to remember the skilled workers that work here, that change people’s lives. […] I’m a member of the Vulnerable Children’s Committee and there are vulnerable children here. […] I will put my views over very strongly and give my reasons why it shouldn’t shut.”

Cllr Andy Cartwright on Charles House (mp3)

Cllr Andy Cartwright, Longbridge

Listen to interviews with Eleanor Brazil and some of the Charles House parents:

Eleanor Brazil, head of CYPF, on Charles House (mp3)

Parent Sarah Johnstone on Charles House (mp3)

Parent Tracey Hadley on Charles House (mp3)

Parent Rebecca Spencer on Charles House (mp3)


SIGN the PETITION to Save Charles House

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Save Charles House facebook group 

Read about the council’s 2012 budget consultation and how to have your say 

If you’re a parent of a child who use, or has used in the past, the facilities at Charles House, please get in touch and tell us your story. 


  1. As a councillor in Longbridge i call upon all Labour Councillors within the northfied constituency to help keep
    Charles house open.The children need it to stay open and so do their parents and the community.The staff at Charles house are 100% comitted to the children and are a vitual part of the development of these childrens lives.
    These professional staff members could be out off work and thats a worry and a waste.I am willing to fight to keep Charles house open and support the families and staff members.

  2. Just got back from the Birmingham Budget Consultatation at the new bournville college.I was very inspired by the manner at which the parents who are fighting to keep Charles house open spoke tonight.They made me feel very humble and proud as they put over their views as to why it should stay open in a very emotional way. No one knows more than these parents as to why Charles house should remain open and the care their children get from the staff that work there.We should all do what we can to help the parents and their children to keep charles house open and were it belongs.

  3. Thanks Andy for your kind comments and support at the budget meeting, we felt our views were heard and hope they help us to secure the future of Charles House and Camborne House.


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