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New Children's Home?

New Childrens Home?At the start of this week, we had word that No 3 Beach Road St Annes, (Next door but one to Pierpoint House Drug Rehabilitation Centre, and almost opposite Ashton Gardens) was being substantially altered.

In particular some very high fencing was being installed.

Then word came out that it was to be another Children's Home 'like' the one that used to be on St Annes Road East (The Saplings) and the one that remains on St Alban's Road (The Coppice).

We say 'like' in the sense that they are highly commercial operations that import troubled children from elsewhere as profit centres for the shareholders of the company that provides accommodation for them.

The accommodation does not generally include the capacity to require the accommodated individual to remain in the premises. In other words they cannot be 'grounded' as children might be at home, (otherwise in the language of state-run childcare, it would be classed as a 'secure unit').

We came across this in 'The Coppice' where, after being taken back to the home late at night by the Police after misdemeanours, the child was received into the home but simply walked out onto the streets again after the police had left.

Staff admitted thy had no means of preventing this from happening. They were not allowed to lock the doors to keep the children in.

In Beach Road, we understand the property has been leased to 'Advanced Childcare' by Frank Wyles Estate Agents.

We have no experience of Advanced Childcare, so we can't tell if it will be as bad as the operation on St Alban's Road has proved. It may not be.

But we're surprised that a small local business like Frank Wyles appears to have such little regard for the quality of area in which it (presumably) wants to gain more business from local people who paid a premium to move to a nice, safe place like St Annes.

That said, we have done some research into Advanced Childcare.

There are a number of highly profitable businesses like this who now operate in this field, receiving what many will think are 'gross' payments for accommodating such youngsters. We hear talk of payments of £2,000 per child per week, but that is only talk, we have no hard facts on that.

But it is big business.

Advanced Childcare had an annual turnover of £9,548,000 from all their homes in the year to September 2009. This gave them an annual profit of £972,000, but when the money was fed through to their parent company 'Total Care Alliance Limited' the situation had changed somewhat. TCA Ltd had the same turnover (£9,548,000) and the same accounting period, but they managed to turn the £900k profit into a loss of £747,000.

Perhaps they have a lot of directors to pay.

So we had a look at them.

'Total Care Alliance Limited' used to be called 'Lunar Glow Limited/Total Care Alliance Limited' .  It's based in Stockport and gives its website as
www.advancedchildcare.co.uk

It has 18 Directors. The highest paid of which gets £114,000

We don't know who that is for sure, but the first listed Director is fifty-plus year old, Christa Echtle

She's the former whizz-kid Mistress of the Universe who took an ailing health division of recruitment and temping giant 'Reed Employment' from rags to untold riches.

By 2000, Reed Health was the tail wagging the Reed Executive dog. The next year, when Reed Health was demerged from its parent, its market capitalisation exceeded that of Reed Executive. A few months later, it spent £33m on a business providing locums to the NHS.

But then it went sour, and for reasons that have never been properly explained, the founder of Reed voted his personal holding against her re-appointment at a routine re-election as a director, and Ms Echtle was gone. Two minutes later, he saw off the finance director in the same way. Then, citing a breakdown in trust, he went home.

But Ms Echtle picked herself up, dusted herself off.... and by 2008 she was a director of...

  • Euan Borland Architects Limited
  • Paragon (Premier) Properties Limited
  • Christa Echtle Consultancy Ltd.
  • Total Care Alliance Limited
  • Paragon (Premier) Properties No.2 Ltd
  • Datix Limited

And within the previous five years she has been a Director of:

  • Firstpoint Healthcare Limited
  • Harrogate Management Centre Limited
  • Harrogate Management Limited
  • Firstpoint Trustees Limited

Busy lady.

Another shareholder in Advanced Childcare (who've now leased the Beach Road property) is 'Ventry Nominees Limited'

Their registered office is 3 St James' Square, London, (That's the wealthy quarter) and they are very, very shy - to the extent that even we can't turn up much of interest about them.

But what about the company itself?

Well, in 2005 Bowmark Capital (a mid-market firm formerly known as Sagitta Private Equity), bought Advanced Childcare for £14m. This buy-out was the second by the firm in the specialist healthcare sector within a year. Bowmark contributed £5.5m in equity, with Royal Bank of Scotland providing an £8.5m senior debt package.

The cash injection was to help fund the company's expansion in the UK. Advanced Childcare operated eight care homes, two state schools and 36 education centres at that time and has since embarked on a process of expansion.

Roughly 65 per cent of children's homes are in private hands, with a third under local authority control and the remaining 5 per cent run by charities. The biggest private groups are Northerncare, CastleCare and Continuum.

For example, 'Keys Childcare', part of a group called 'Bettercare', owns 35 residential centres including 'The Coppice' in St Annes

Such is the delivery of social services childcare in the UK.

This sort of situation will come as a shock to many people who believe the care of 'difficult' children should properly be a function of a dedicated team of public servants run by the Council. Not any longer. It's now mostly a moneymaking machine.

The other big shock - especially for local residents - is that such moneymaking machines can take a property such as 3 Beach Road and alter it to provide such accommodation without needing planning permission or some other form of permission from the local authority.   If they're careful, they don't.

Provided the number of young people being housed is five or less, it counts the same as a family, so no change of use is needed. And provided there are less than three un-related adults resident at the property, it doesn't qualify as a 'house in multiple occupation'

Given the experience folk in this area have had with 'The Saplings' and 'The Coppice' they can be excused for being worried before the event.

The Coppice decided a while ago that it would like to become a school (a change that did need, and was refused, planning permission), the police reported to FBC's Planning department that "In the last 12 months police had attended 134 incidents at The Coppice. There have been 33 arrests and 10 local crimes have been detected"

That's an average of around 2 visits a day week, and three arrests every week month,  just at the one residence*. SEE 'UPDATE' AT END

However since that time, we can report a sea-change in the operation of 'The Coppice' Mostly - we believe - attributable to a seniorish police person who took hold of the problem firmly and shook it - as a terrier does with a rat. It was all done behind closed doors, but we believe a multi-agency team was assembled to confront the management of The Coppice (who flew in specially for the 'Big Bang' meeting). What sort of persuasion was available or used we don't know, but since then there has been hardly any serious problem there.

It shouldn't need such a big stick, but you can see the sort of problems that *can* arise -  and why people are worried.

They were so worried that on Thursday, word had gone round the houses, and 120 of them met at St Margaret's to discuss what they could do.

Ward Councillors who were not away (Cllr John Davies was), i.e. Tony Ford and Barbara Pagett attended the meeting and gave information where they could. It had been intended to have the public meeting after the routine 'Police and Community Together' meeting, but the room wouldn't hold the number milling around outside, and the big hall was pressed into emergency use.

There was hostility to the idea of the Home, and a lot of uncertainty. The suggestion that there would only be three children was met with scepticism from several in the body of the meeting. One person wanted to know why it did not require a change of use permission. They were told by the Councillors that under six residents did not need any planning permission. This failed to satisfy the questioner who said, "but this is changing from a residential use into a business like a hotel would be, and that surely requires change of use permission"

Another said he was a serving police officer elsewhere but lived here, and said "We really don't want this" then went on to say he had experience of such homes elsewhere and they were invariably sources of trouble. He wanted to know why they had chosen Beach Road.

Another person wanted to know why it didn't require licensing by FBC as a House in Multiple Occupation. She suggested that three un-related adults living there would require it to be licensed, but there was doubt about the residency of the adults, and the children would be less than 18.

Another spoke of the town not being suitable for young people because of the lack of facilities. Another was concerned that Pierpoint House Drug Rehab Centre was so close, and they were concerned for the welfare of the children. Two people who care for vulnerable people in close proximity to 3 Beach Road also expresses alarm at the plans.

One person wondered where we would put such children, and another said it was too soon to come to judgements, and there was a need to talk to the people that run the business, and see what they have to say.

We have to say we're dubious, but we hope we're proved wrong. Like the owners of 'The Coppice' this company has 'Motherhood and Apple Pie' policies about respecting the local community. It even has a formal 'Good Neighbour' policy. All well and good, but so does 'The Coppice'

Ofsted publishes its reports into these homes, but it hides the names by giving each Home a code number, so you can't tell who is running which home, and the names of the homes aren't used within the Ofsted report.

So quite clearly, Osfted don't want you to be able to find out what they say about a particular home.

So much for transparency and open government.

So much for engaging with the local community.

We say keeping such reports secret is not appropriate

But this is counterbalance....., and we're not put off by such tricks.

The Ofsted codes for Advanced Childcare are:

SC066187 Children's Home - Advanced Childcare Ltd
SC359846 Children's Home - Advanced Childcare Ltd

In the case of Advanced Childcare, this Ofsted obscurity system appears to work to their disadvantage because each of the Ofsted reports says that overall, the inspections revealed the 'Advanced' homes to be 'outstanding'.

That's in comparison with The Coppice (SC064363) inspected last June / October (2009) which was judged to be 'Satisfactory'

That of course is if Ofsted are measuring the right things, and you believe their gradings.

The gradings they use are:

  • Outstanding: this aspect of the provision is of exceptionally high quality
  • Good: this aspect of the provision is strong
  • Satisfactory: this aspect of the provision is sound
  • Inadequate: this aspect of the provision is not good enough

But they generally don't judge the impact of the Home in the neighbourhood, and often don't always judge the organisation.

That said, they do seem to rate Advanced Childcare more highly than The Coppice, so maybe the problems will be less.

We hope that will be the case.

Residents of the area are organising. They will be articulate and able to wield significant clout. We know some of them.

We'll keep our readers in the picture when developments arise.

Dated:   29 May 2010

*UPDATE: 30 May 2010
We're grateful to a reader for pointing out our typos in paragraph 6 of this column, (regarding the interpretation of the policing of 'the Coppice') and we have now corrected the text. Apologies for any inconvenience caused.


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