At its meeting on Tuesday, December 10, the authority’s cabinet agreed to fund two new-build, four-bedroom facilities in Hadston and Pegswood, which will provide medium to long-term care for children aged six to 17 at a total cost of £1.296million.
This will add to Northumberland’s existing capacity of 11 beds across three separate homes, while the development of emergency care ‘will offer an opportunity to better work with families towards reunification and/or family placements preventing children needing high-cost packages of care’.
The report to councillors adds: ‘Alternatively, where this is not appropriate, the children’s homes will provide safe, well-managed and fit-for-purpose accommodation, while the right care option is being considered and sourced.
‘This will halt the increasing reliance upon bespoke packages of care created in emergency situations from temporary accommodation and agency staffing leading to improved outcomes for children.’
Coun Wayne Daley, the cabinet member for children’s services, said: “This is the next stage of the educational revolution we have been residing over in the last two years, following many millions of pounds of investment in our school stock.
“We are having to send children out of the county to be looked after. This is not just an invest-to-save project, but it’s the morally right thing to do.”
He pointed out that of the 30 Northumberland children currently being looked after in children’s homes, only 11 of them are actually in council-run facilities in the county.
The remaining 19 children live in homes operated by private providers with only four of these placements within Northumberland.
The report explained that the average cost of an in-house placement is £134,462 a year, almost £40,000 less than the average price of a private commissioned placement – £173,479. Based on an increase of eight beds, the annual cost saving to the local authority is £312,136.
The original proposal was to buy and convert existing detached houses, ‘however, despite extensive searching, viable properties to be converted/refurbished could not be identified either due to the location requirements, the required scale of the property or the robustness of the construction’.
The plan is to start building the new homes in April next year with construction to be finished by November and the project completed by December.