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£7 million plan to build four care homes in Oxfordshire following Bullfinch
Buy this photo MP Nicola Blackwood Picture: OX58272 Damian Halliwell
FOUR new care homes could be created in Oxfordshire to provide places for 20 vulnerable children and teenagers in the wake of the Bullfinch child abuse scandal.
Oxfordshire County Council is set to spend £7m on the homes from its capital budget to more than double the number of children cared for in local authority homes.
It would reduce the number of children sent to care homes out of the county.
The proposals come after failings within the care system were highlighted by the Bullfinch trial and convictions of the seven child sex abusers who targeted girls in care.
Five of the men were last week given life sentences.
Melinda Tilley, council cabinet member for children, education and families, said: “It costs us a lot of money to send children out of the county but also all the surveys and statistics show they feel much safer and more comfortable in the county and do much better.
“It has been for a lot of reasons and Bullfinch is one of them.”
Of the 400 children in care in Oxfordshire, 46 are in care homes.
Currently 19 are in Oxfordshire, 12 in the county’s two existing care homes, while the remaining 27 are in placements outside the county.
With the average weekly cost of a children’s home place not run by the county council at £3,400, the authority hopes to save more than £700,000 a year. No locations have been identified yet, but council spokesman Paul Smith said the authority hoped to see a “spread of residential provision across the county”.
There would be two six-bed homes for children aged 11 to 16, which would probably be purpose-built, and two four-bed homes for 16 to 18 year olds, which could be adapted from existing buildings.
The extra places would be targeted at reducing the need to place children outside of the county.
Asked if the council was best placed to run the new homes given the issues raised in Operation Bullfinch, Mrs Tilley defended the council’s record.
She said: “It wasn’t the council homes that were the cause of the problem, they were very diligent in chasing the children that were away from home.
“I have every confidence we are the right people to be doing it because we are the ones that know what we are doing.”
Oxford West and Abingdon MP Nicola Blackwood welcomed the announcement. She said: “I am pleased the council is investing in improving care provision for vulnerable local children.
“The revelations of the Bullfinch trial, of course, do mean the council needs to restore public confidence and I think this is best achieved by clearly demonstrating they have robust child protection systems.”
Tom Rahilly, head of strategy and development at the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, said it was vital residential care was run by skilled staff who treated the children as they would their own.
He said: “New residential care provision must go hand in hand with efforts to build a culture that listens to and respects the views of children and young people, along with effective leadership and high levels of support and training for staff who hold the future of children like this in their hands.”
The proposals will need approval from Oxfordshire County Council’s cabinet and a timescale has yet to be drawn up. The last new care home opened by the council was in 2011 but that directly replaced a home that was closing.
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