The Cherries care home future being considered

THE future of Dorset Council’s Cherries residential care home in Weymouth is being considered – along with other services for disabled children.

Portfolio holder Cllr Andrew Parry says families are being kept informed and no decisions have yet been made.

The Cherries home, for children aged 4 to 18, is rated ‘Good’ by Ofsted, but the building itself is described as “tired”. The council says now is the right time to consider future provision.

The Weymouth facility is for children and young people with severe learning disabilities and complex needs. It only has nine residential places, although at times the average occupancy has been down to five.

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In February 2020 the council commissioned a report into the option of opening a new therapeutic children’s home, possibly on the site of the Cherries, although the finding were not made public.

Said Cllr Parry, portfolio holder for children, skills and early help: “We are carrying out work  to strengthen services for children who are disabled. Part of this includes looking at our current facilities for residential provision, including The Cherries, and using opportunities available to develop a service which is flexible, responsive and which will complement existing services.

“We are consulting with families and employees but have not yet made any decisions about changes to any of our residential provision. We will keep families involved every step of the way and any changes we may make will allow the workforce to continue to advocate for the children they support, providing them with the stability and support to grow into happy, confident adults.”

Dorchester councillor Richard Biggs has called for any possible changes to be handled in the most sensitive way.

He said that previous closures of homes, (at Cattistock and Dorchester), had led to anguish for those concerned.

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Cllr Parry told him that achieving good and outstanding ratings not only applied to the services being offered but also to the fabric of buildings. He said that he would like to see Dorset children growing up in a “homely place.”

“The Cherries rating is ‘Good’ but it will require capital funding going forward – we need to understand how best we can do that without causing unnecessary distress,” he told a meeting of the council’s people and health scrutiny committee.

Executive director for children’s services, Theresa Leavy, told the meeting that a small residential unit had been opened on Portland and other homes were likely to follow.

She said that many parents had told the council that their children might not have needed residential care had there been better “wrap-around” outreach services in years gone by.

Ms Leavy said the council was now considering changes to its services for children with disabilities in the light of other changes within social services and a wish to return as many children as possible to care within the county.

Wyke Regis councillor, Kate Wheller, who chairs the corporate parenting board, said she was a believer in “if it ain’t broke – don’t fix it” and warned against going into a review of services with an idea of what might need changing.

“Undoubtedly the Cherries is a little tired, it’s a model from a past era…these are children with complex needs and we should only change their environment with the utmost of care so we don’t unsettle the help we have given them and the stability that they currently have.”

In a Dorset children’s service self-assesment report the department says it will increase “the availability of local residential care and children’s homes.”

It says it will do this by developing the Harbour service to deliver a Hub in Dorchester Road, Weymouth to provide up to three places for young people with embedded outreach, foster care and supported lodgings, and alongside this a new children’s home for up to five young people who need medium term residential care.

The report also says the department will also work with partner organisations to expand the range of residential care in Dorset, with a further three homes being developed to offer five more places.

For disabled children it say: “We will review our children’s home for children and young people who are disabled and look at how the service can be provided differently – exploring the potential to deliver the service in less institutional settings and linking the service with dedicated foster carers and short breaks providers to deliver a graduated response…Refurbishing existing Dorset Council property to provide a range of accommodation options and developing independent living/respite care for young people 16yrs – 25yrs including outreach.”

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