A West Heath care home which provides respite care services for children with severe learning disabilities looks set to close, as its services are moved across the city as part of Birmingham City Council’s budget reducing proposals.
Previous threat of closure
Charles House was previously threatened with closure in 2011/12 when the council proposed to move all respite care into foster placements. A staunch campaign was led by parents and supported by B31 Voices, Communities Against the Cuts and many local Labour politicians. After listening to parents’ views and receiving a petition of over 2600 signatories, the council backed down and maintained the invaluable service at its West Heath location. [Read about the previous campaign]
Although the council say there is to be no reduction in the level and amount of respite care on offer, they propose moving the service currently provided at Charles House to another facility at the other side of the city in Erdington. It is thought that some staff would move in the merger.
Andy Pepper, assistant director of Birmingham City Council’s children in care service, said: “[…] we are considering […] moving the service to a modern building which has far better facilities, and would provide a better environment for the children, with good links to the local community.”
Although Mr Pepper says the move would be for the benefit of the children in Charles House’s care, he admits that budget savings need to be made. He said: “These are part of wider changes to the disabled children’s service in response to government funding cuts which mean we need to make some savings within our service. However, this will not affect the amount of short breaks the children already receive.”
Cllr Brett O’Reilly (Labour, Northfield) was heavily involved in the previous campaign to Save Charles House. He said: “Having been part of the campaign in 2011 to keep Charles House open, I know the value that it brings to the families that need it by providing respite for some of the most vulnerable in the city.
“I’ve not been made of aware of any plans to close Charles House, although it has been confirmed that the council may look to relocate the centre. I will be seeking an urgent meeting with Charles House management, and will also be looking to set up a wider meeting for service users in the very near future to get their views on any proposed relocation.”
Parents say “Save Charles House”
However, parents who have children that receive care from Charles House are concerned about the affect such a big change would mean to their children.
Louise Fage from Selly Oak relies on Charles House to help her care for her 9 year old son, Owen. Owen is diagnosed with Autism and Hypermobility and needs full supervision and assistance with almost all daily tasks.
As a single mum, the respite breaks he has received at Charles House for the last two years have given Louise a much needed break and time to reboot.
Louise said: “It took my son a good 12 months to ‘really’ settle in. After 6 months he was, however, happy when he knew he was going and he classed the staff as his second family and Charles House as his second home.”
And Louise says that care at Charles House has had a positive influence on her son. She said: “Charles House have made a massive positive impact on Owen: his confidence, his speech, learning to dress himself and gain independence.”
Louise’s main concern is the disruption any move would mean for Owen’s routine. She said: “There are many reasons why the proposed move is unsuitable for Owen and the majority of the other children. Owen’s main structure of life is routine! Without a new place, new people, a 2 hour bus journey to school and back – he has enough to deal with.”
On a petition she has set up, Louise has also noted that, although some staff would move with the service, it is likely some would be made redundant or move into other roles elsewhere – another upheaval for children who require stability and order.
She wrote: “The proposal will mean the new team will comprise of some staff from Charles House and some from the new building, resulting in the redundancies of some of our children’s key workers and carers, people they have formed an emotional bond with, people that know their behavioural issues and needs inside out. This will only result in confusion and distress for my son and many of the other children. ”
Consultation & Campaign
Council representatives will be meeting with parents and staff to discuss the proposals as they consider the option.
Parents have set up a Facebook group for anyone who wants to support their campaign to keep Charles House’s services open at their current location. You can join the group here
They are also asking people to sign their petition to Save Charles House