To subject to pre-decision scrutiny the proposals for overnight residential respite in Hampshire, following the consultation heard on this subject.
The Director of Children’s Services and his representatives attended before the Committee in order to speak to the ‘Proposals to close two overnight residential respite homes for children with disabilities as the County Council moves towards a wider range of overnight respite services’ item (see Item 8 in the Minute Book).
The report set out the outcomes of the public consultation heard on the proposals to close two overnight residential respite homes – Merrydale in Kings Worthy (Winchester) and Sunbeams in Aldershot – and to offer a wider sustainable overnight respite service to disabled children and their families. The closure would impact on 35 children and their families currently using these centres.
The report in the Committee’s papers would be considered by the Executive Lead Member for Children’s Services at his decision day later in the afternoon.
In response to questions, Members heard:
· That currently 23 children and their families used specialist respite care provided through foster carers, and there were 40 foster carers available. These were not currently geographically balanced across the County, so work was ongoing to target areas where there is less respite capacity to ensure that children and their families can access support close to home. The benefit of these specialist foster carers was that families and children could build long-term relationships with individuals, getting to know and trust them to provide respite care.
· There should be no resultant impact on those children and families accessing overnight respite at Firvale in Basingstoke, as the capacity at this centre was enough that it could support additional children.
· That if the decision was made to close Merrydale and Sunbeams, this would not take place until May 2018, in order to ensure that all families have an opportunity to meet with their social worker to consider the alternative options for respite care that would meet their needs.
· Part of the driver for proposing to close Merrydale and Sunbeams and to provide a new offer of overnight respite care was to give children and their families a greater range of options that moved away from traditional overnight stays in accommodation away from their communities.
· A commitment had been made that no child assessed as requiring overnight respite support would have a reduction in this offer; the changes would instead lead to this offer being delivered in a different way. The eligibility criteria would remain the same, as would the support offered to children and their families; there would be no need for reassessments.
· A further commitment had been made that families would not be adversely financially impacted by any changes to how overnight respite care is offered, with any additional travel required to alternative services supported by Children’s Services, and agreed with families on an individual basis.
· All children and their families had been offered a 1-2-1 meeting with their social worker to discuss the proposals and to hold initial discussions about alternative options. Of these, two families had not taken up this offer; it was believed that this was because discussion at this point was too difficult for some of the families affected.
· Drop in sessions were also available to families, and consultation activities listed in the report were also held with staff members. From this point forward, the affected families would be written to once any decision was taken on the future of Merrydale and Sunbeams, offering further 1-2-1 sessions based on the outcome of the decision by the Executive Lead Member.
· The ongoing capital and revenue costs associated with traditional overnight respite care provided by the County Council was part of the driver for the decision to propose closure. However, releasing capital receipts from Merrydale and reducing spending on maintaining buildings would ensure greater investment into the service in future, with the majority of spend on services rather than buildings.
The Chairman moved to debate.
Cllr Robert Taylor left the meeting at this point in proceedings.
A variety of arguments both in support and against the closure of the two overnight respite centres were heard, including:
· That some Members were reassured that the offer to families would not be reducing, with overnight residential respite still on offer to children at a variety of locations. However, there was a strong feeling that overnight provision should take place as close to children’s homes as possible.
· That expanding the overnight respite care offer would potentially mean that more children can access these services, which was a positive development.
· Some Members expressed confidence in the officers leading the review and its outcomes, and their trust in the Department to make tough decisions that should lead to better outcomes for children and their families.
· Concerns that children and their families would be very sensitive to change and the fear of unknown respite care. That further support should be given if a decision was taken to close the centres to provide reassurance about the new service model.
· A concern from some Members that because of the small saving to be achieved and the complex needs of the children affected, the proposals were unnecessary and cruel, and would have a significant impact on their welfare.
· That the County Council had a responsibility to improve the quality of life of children in its care, and a concern that this decision did not contribute towards this outcome.
· The view that services should have been double run before any proposal to close Merrydale and Sunbeams, so that families could experience alternative respite services before the changes are implemented.
· A request that the decision on the closures be delayed until children and their families were fully aware of the alternative options available.
At the end of debate, the Chairman asked the Executive Lead Member for his views on the discussion heard. Cllr Mans expressed that without prejudicing the decision he was due to consider in the afternoon, he had listened carefully to the deputations, questions and debate, and had found the discussion helpful.
The Chairman moved to the recommendations, and a vote took place on the recommendation as set out below:
For: Cllrs Branson, Bolton, Brooks, Carpenter, Chadd, Forster, Locke, Oppenheimer, Penman (9)
Against: Cllrs Irish, James, Porter, Wade, Westbrook (5)
Abstained: Cllr Harvey (1)
That the Children and Young People Select Committee support the recommendations being proposed to the Executive Lead Member for Children’s Services in section 1, paragraph 1.1 of the report.