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The privately-run home closed down in 2019. Now the council wants to fill the gap with in-house services instead of forking out for expensive placements outside Bristol.

A new council-run care home for disabled children is to open, after Bristol’s only residential home closed last year amid a police investigation into child cruelty.

On average, Bristol City Council currently pays a whopping £300,000 a year per child, but the plans would save money and provide more stability for families, whose children often get sent far from home. The proposal was approved at yesterday’s Cabinet meeting.

St Christopher’s was a care home and school for children with severe and complex learning difficulties and disabilities in Westbury Park run by The Aurora Group, a private company owned by an investment fund that manages billions of pounds of assets.

In July 2019, the residential part of St Christopher’s closed down and a number of staff were suspended after Ofsted discovered serious safeguarding concerns. Avon and Somerset Police launched an investigation into child cruelty, which is still ongoing.

“Local authorities have been stripped bare. Therefore, their mindset is that they have to outsource things. But this seems to be a change in thinking.”

Then in March, the school closed down after damning Ofsted reports and a falling number of pupils. Aurora now intend to redevelop the site and have submitted a pre-application request to Bristol City Council. 

Three Bristol children were at St Christopher’s when it closed. Two have since been at The Bush in Totterdown, which is only designed for short stays, while the other has been sent out of Bristol. 

The new-three bed home will cost about £500,000 a year to run, but this will still save the council about £43,000 a year per child, according to the business case. The site is already council-owned and it will need £500,000 of capital funding to get the home up and running in 2022/23.

Demand for these services is expected to increase, and looking after the children in-house is also expected to make the transition to adult services easier. 

The council currently spend £5.8m a year commissioning external residential placements for children in care, including independent residential schools. The business case said: “Independent placement costs are growing exponentially alongside this, which has been further exacerbated by market responses and the Covid-19 pandemic”.

‘They can do it cheaper’

A parent whose child was at St Christopher’s, but has now moved to a new private home miles away from his family, told the Cable: “Bristol would be saving a lot of money, they can do it cheaper. 

“Our son’s placement costs about £300,000 a year. I was previously told by the managing director of the Aurora Group that private companies like this have a profit margin of 30%.”

“These carers are angels, but their pay packet is not great. You don’t go into caring for children with special needs without wanting to do the right thing. If Bristol City Council took this service in-house, they could pay them better and still save money. Turnover tends to be high because after a while people burn out, but if pay was better, they could attract and keep good people.”

He said he was told by his local council that placing children at privately-run homes allows local authorities to “outsource the risk”. 

“Local authorities have been stripped bare. Therefore, their mindset is that they have to outsource things. But this seems to be a change in thinking.”

The home will be in Avonmouth and Lawrence Weston ward. Labour councillor for the area Don Alexander praised the decision to approve the new home. He said: “I would like to draw attention to the full business case, which clearly sets out the advantages, financial and otherwise, of local, council-run provision over the current offer from the private sector. 

“With interest rates at a historic low, this is the time to build what we need to cut revenue spending in the future, and to give our most vulnerable citizens what they deserve, not what the market feels it’s able to supply.”

Helen Godwin, the council’s lead member for children’s services, said: “The impact of the closure [of St Christopher’s’] was that we didn’t have sufficient placements for our children with most complex needs in Bristol, which urged us to consider our placement strategy.

“One of our key principles in children’s services is to keep our children as close to home as possible, so a decision was made that there was a business case for a new home specifically for disabled children. 

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