Call for closure of children's homes

By Farnham Herald in Local People

RESIDENTS in Four Marks and Medstead are calling for the closure of two “therapeutic” children’s homes because they are deeply concerned for the wellbeing and safety of the children.

Owned and run by Benjamin UK Ltd, the two homes are licensed by Ofsted to provide “24-hour, wraparound therapeutic residential placements as well as therapeutic education for young people who, due to early childhood trauma, mental health problems and in particular attachment related problems, have difficulty reaching their full potential”.

Founded in 2004, Benjamin UK is the brainchild of company founder Claudette Deysel who, in 2013, won the Natwest Everywoman Award for her visionary approach to “running a business with a clearly defined social or ethical purpose” – in this case promoting the rights of vulnerable children.

Now with homes in five counties, locally, according to Benjamin UK’s safeguarding consultant, former Scotland Yard Detective Sergeant Michael Hames, each home is registered to take four children, aged 12 to 18, one for girls, the other for boys.

Having had 33 police call outs in the first two months of opening, the house in Four Marks is currently home to three teenage boys. Residents have documented evidence of them climbing onto the roof, stripping tiles and throwing them at parked and passing vehicles, running down the road with no apparent concern for traffic, knocking on doors seeking work, kicking in gates, and using foul language and threatening behaviour.

Open since the beginning of February, the home in South Medstead is for teenage girls and has seen 66 police call outs. Girls have been witnessed running up and down the road at midnight in their nightclothes and shouting obscenities, being allowed to go to the shop in their pyjamas, and using unacceptable language, drink, drugs and cigarettes.

There have been complaints about rubbish building up outside the property, in bags that have been mauled by foxes and that are attracting rats.

While at one time eager to welcome them into their midst, residents are well aware that these are highly-vulnerable young people but feel they are not being supervised properly.

At a public meeting in Four Marks last Tuesday, called by district councillor Ingrid Thomas and attended by county councillor Mark Kemp-Gee and parish council chairmen Simon Thomas (Four Marks) and Roy Pullen (Medstead), residents expressed extreme concern over the apparent lack of care and control, speaking of young carers who appeared frightened of their charges and unable to cope.

While the boys in the Four Marks home are currently thought to come from Hampshire, with Hampshire County Council paying the £7,000 per month for each child to be there, it does give Hampshire Social Services access to the property. The concern is, however, that those in the Medstead home come from further afield and are not the responsibility of Hampshire County Council whose social workers have no right of access.

There was concern too that the homes are self-monitored with Benjamin providing the home education and staffing. Ofsted is said to be the only organisation with the power to demand change and/or to close them down.

All those present at the meeting had written numerous letters both to Benjamin UK and to Ofsted registering concerns but had, they felt, been “stonewalled”.

Having throughly researched the company, Mr Mark Kemp-Gee said he had begun by viewing this as “performing a public duty to have these children in our midst”.

“But it is safe to say things have not gone to plan,” he continued. “Deep down we all have responsibilities to help these children but there are limits. We are being overtaken by children endangering themselves and neighbours.

“We are all kind, gentle, decent people but if they don’t behave and do not try to fit into the community, we have to shut them down.”

While Benjamin UK has failed to attend meetings before, residents are now determined to meet with the company to discuss the matter further.

Commenting on behalf of Benjamin UK, Mr Hames said: “I have visited both homes as part of my remit and know the staff there. I am also copied in to all incidents that occur across the company.

“The children cared for are all vulnerable and ‘in the public care’ and come from various local authority areas. While there have been behavioural issues at the homes from time to time, I do not believe that many have impacted on the neighbours, apart from loud music being played and this has been dealt with very quickly.

“The homes are supported by our partner agencies, including the police when necessary. The police attend the homes when children go missing and when they return as part of a nationally agreed protocol. That accounts for most of the attendances at the homes.

“As far as the workforce is concerned, most of the staff are graduates and the overall profile is young – in their mid-20s. The training given is very comprehensive and the care is based on therapeutic models.”

He added: “The company is keen to have a good relationship with the local community and welcomes the opportunity to engage with them.”

No-one from Ofsted was available to comment by the time the Herald went to press.

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