"To them it's a figure on a piece of paper but you just can't put a price on the human cost..."
Families of children who currently use The Grange, Salford's only home for disabled children, have vowed to fight Council proposals to close it, to save a 'potential £300,000'.
Just over three years ago, Salford City Council was at the centre of community protests when it shifted children with complex needs and disabilities out of The Grange, which was then a short term respite centre. It stated that the children "were not value for money".
Instead, The Grange was changed to be a residential facility for children with very complex needs, the Council arguing that it "would reduce the need to place children outside of the city, improve their life experiences and will save on the cost of more expensive out of borough residential placements"... Salford Council is now proposing to close The Grange completely and move the young people to 'expensive out of borough residential placements'...
"It is significantly under occupied and it is not a suitable environment for the children currently cared for there" states a Council budget report "We will work with parents to find accommodation that meets their needs. Once these new placements are found, it is proposed to close this establishment."
Now parents and their extended families have launched a Save Salford's Only Disabled Children's Home campaign, with a petition on Salford Council's website and a Facebook group.*
Rebecca Howarth's daughter, Rachel, age 15, who suffers with tuberous sclerosis, epilepsy and autism, has been at The Grange for around two and a half years... "She has very complex needs which unfortunately we were unable to cope with any more in the home which is how we found ourselves using The Grange" she says "Rachel loves it, she's very settled, she's got a brilliant relationship with the majority of the staff, she's happy and has really changed since she went in there."
Andrew Dickinson's son, Declan, age 13, who is severely autistic and has learning difficulties, has been in The Grange since October... "He's come on loads since he's been there as a permanent resident" he says "They said he'd never speak or anything like that but now it's amazing how he's come on and it's all due to the school and The Grange staff making a package for Declan's life. You can tell the emotional connection the staff have with Declan. They know him better than I do!
"You try as hard as you can to cope but then you have to say 'I need the help', and to have it there is a godsend because if it wasn't you'd be struggling" he adds.
The Council is arguing that The Grange is underused and that, at the moment, there are only these two young people using the facility which can take five residents. While this is true, a few months ago the picture was different, and no-one can predict future need. Once the place is closed the service is lost forever...
"We found ourselves in a situation that when Rachel turned 13 her behaviours changed literally overnight, so we went from having no involvement with social services to having to put Rachel into full time care, within four months" Rebecca explains "You just don't know what's going to happen, particularly if you are a family with a disabled child. Circumstances change. If you need emergency care what are your options if The Grange disappears? Where do those families turn to? It's worrying."
As usual, Salford Council, as it does with all cuts to vulnerable people, states that "There will be no reduction in the level of service for children requiring specialist support"...Yet these parents beg to differ...
"If The Grange shuts I have absolutely no idea what would happen to Rachel and that's what's really worrying" says Rebecca "If there's nowhere else within Salford that could take her then it would have to be outside of the area which would have a massive impact on Rachel and her behaviour, having to be moved somewhere unfamiliar.
"It will possibly also have an impact on schooling because she might have to change school where she's settled and she's had no issues" she adds "There's also the impact on health services because she would be outside the borough and we'd have to start again, as obviously she has complex needs. There's the impact on family...the further away she is the less contact she would have with her immediate and extended family."
In mid-January, when they found out about the proposed closure, the two families emailed their concerns to Lisa Stone, Lead Member for Children's and Young People's Services, and Salford City Mayor, Paul Dennett.
The Mayor sent an automated acknowledgement and nothing since. Lisa Stone's reply was even more concerning, to say the least...
"She said nothing would be done without consultation to provide the right provision for our children, but then the email goes on that they are looking to do this because it saves £300,000 a year, it was all very much facts and figures" Rebecca recalls "Then she asked how the two families had got together...and why were we talking to the union?
"She added that she would be happy to meet us but not as a group because she doesn't think that is appropriate to discuss our children's needs" says Rebecca "But she's never met our children, she doesn't know their needs! And their needs are not really the issue here. This is about budgets. So we were not happy to go ahead. We thought there was a bit of a divide and conquer, and we want to keep it as a collective campaign."
As far as budgets go, Salford Star has recently uncovered a £660,000 payment to Legal and General Pension Fund, for rent, on top of the £19million being spent on the RHS Garden in Worsley, un-collected debts from Salford Red Devils, and last week, the Council found over £30million to tart up its swimming baths and gyms...There's also the estimated £44million in Section 106 money that developers building unaffordable apartments and houses have avoided...
"It's crazy amounts of money" says Rebecca "It makes you feel really angry when you think about the potential impact on two of the most vulnerable children within the Salford area, and there may be more out there that we just don't know about.
"These two are at the forefront, and to say that they're not really worth £300,000 a year...how can you put a price on vulnerable children and their wellbeing, and the families' wellbeing?" she asks "To them it's a figure on a piece of paper but you just can't put a price on the human cost..."
Andrew agrees... "All I can think of is that it's `Salford Council first, children with disabilities last'; it's a joke" he says "They haven't considered the setbacks it's going to cause for the children. I certainly wouldn't like to see Declan shipped out of the area to god knows where.
"They probably just want to flatten The Grange to build houses" he adds "I'm sure there's better ways. I'm sure if it was their kids they would be fighting too..."
And so these parents are fighting, together with their families and supporters, and are urging all caring people in Salford to help them.
*They have set up a Facebook page called Save Salford's Only Disabled Children's Home – click here for details
There's also an official petition on the Salford City Council website to 'Remove the closure of The Grange (disabled children's home) from the proposed budget cuts' – click here to sign it.
The proposed cut to close The Grange will be discussed at the full meeting of Salford Council on Wednesday 22nd February.
See also previous Salford Star article - Salford Council To Shut The Grange - click here