Care home approved despite complaints of violence and verbal abuse
A HOUSE in a village cul-de-sac can be used as a children’s care home, despite allegations of troubled young residents carrying knives and throwing bricks.
South Gloucestershire councillors approved the retrospective proposals for the five-bedroom property in Inglestone Road, Wickwar, which has been used for emergency accommodation for young people since March last year, after hearing there was a shortage of foster parents.
The owners, Karen and Colin Dooley, have fostered many children at their house since 2002. After emergency placements from Gloucestershire County Council last year, they applied for a change of use so it could become an Ofsted-registered children’s residential home.
South Gloucestershire Council’s development management committee members went with officers’ advice to approve the proposals, in the face of 45 letters of objection.
Neighbour Ken Stout told the meeting on March 21 that the peaceful, 15-year coexistence between the foster home and the community had been “shattered” since it began accepting emergency placements, with numerous incidents attended by police.
He said: “There was a violent assault on a care worker, pushed to the ground in the street outside the property, and a knife-carrying absconder who turned up on the doorstep of a neighbouring property claiming to be carrying it to protect himself from an assault by staff.
“A brick was lobbed into the path, narrowly missing the head of my neighbour’s young son.”
Mr Stout said children had “yelled obscenities” from the house at passers-by and a youngster was handcuffed by police in a “disturbing and noisy scene of restraint”.
“One family adjacent has had to stop their child playing in the garden and has even had to relocate them to another bedroom,” he said.
“We accept there is a need for such displaced and troubled young people but quality of life has already significantly diminished for the young, neighbouring families and it is highly likely it will diminish further should this application be granted.
“The council should put the welfare of residents first, above the needs of out-of-borough young people.”
Mr Stout said it was “hugely unrealistic” to expect the youngsters to integrate into the community because the placements were typically short-term.
Social worker Charliejo Dooley, manager of Inspyre Plus, which is based at the house, said they had changed their procedures in the light of the police incidents.
A report to the committee said the problems were largely down to one child last summer who had since been removed, and that there were only two incidents reported to the police between September and December.
Ms Dooley told members: “The premises are not a prison. It’s a five-bedroom house.
“The community should and can play a role supporting children in care.
“They should expect the same standards they would want for their own children, and tackle their out-of-sight, out-of-mind culture so children in care feel a sense of self-worth, value and respect.”
Ladden Brook ward councillor Marian Gilpin, who referred the application to the committee, said: “Local councils have an obligation to take into the care of the authority children whose lives have been torn apart either by difficult or dangerous circumstances or where parents are unable to look after them.
“These children often become vulnerable to drug dealers and sexual predators.
“Because Wickwar is a relatively small community, the young residents will not be subjected to the dangerous social pressures in our inner cities where the vulnerable can be sucked into gangs and have their lives wrecked even further.
“A safe home with proper management and fully-qualified staff is the right answer for these young people whose family lives have disintegrated.
“It will not be used for emergency placements, it will be for permanent places for three children — only three.”
But Bradley Stoke South councillor Roger Avenin said: “I have great sympathy for looked-after children but I would ask, is this the right location? A quiet residential street and a relatively quiet village.
“I have great reservations in accepting something where you have such a number of objectors.”
Officers said there were no reasons to refuse the proposals on planning grounds, and Wickwar Parish Council was in support.
Members voted in favour, with Mr Avenin voting against.
By Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporting Service