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Closure of secure youth unit will 'increase risk of suicides'

PUBLISHED: 17:19 06 May 2009 | UPDATED: 15:37 16 August 2010

WORRIED: Dennis Scotland outside Orchard Lodge.

WORRIED: Dennis Scotland outside Orchard Lodge.

MANAGERS of the capital s only secure home for young offenders have warned that its proposed closure this summer could lead to the suicide of vulnerable children.

MANAGERS of the capital's only secure home for young offenders have warned that its proposed closure this summer could lead to the suicide of vulnerable children.

The Youth Justice Board (YJB) announced last month that they would not renew its contract for the 24-bed Orchard Lodge in Anerley.

The unit, the only of its kind in London, has admitted some of the most vulnerable children since it opened 20 years ago including one of Damilola Taylor's killers Ricky Preddie.

Managers of The Glen Care Group are seeking legal advice to challenge the decision and claim that the relocation of vulnerable inmates to Youth Offending Institutions (YOIs) or Secure Training Centres (STCs) far away from their families could hinder their rehabilitation.

No child has ever died in a secure children's home, but since 1990 30 young people have committed suicide, including 16-year-old Joseph Scholes who died at Stock Heath in 2002. despite recommendations he should serve his sentence in a unit like Orchard Lodge.

Deborah Coles, co-director of Inquest, a charity which campaigns over death in custody said: "There is no doubt in my mind that when you close down more secure children's homes, more vulnerable children end up in a custody that cannot keep them safe.

"One concern I have at the lack of secure accommodation and the closing of these homes is that the positive nature of having highly trained staff who have dedicated their careers to child welfare is lost.

"When these already limited resources are further limited, this will inevitably lead to high levels of self-harm, high levels of vulnerability and a failure to keep these children safe. When one considers the loss of life already seen in YOIs and centres it is really frightening."

Dennis Scotland, director of Children's Services at Orchard Lodge said: "We are the only secure provision in London so we never dreamt that they would want to close us. We thought we might lose some beds, but not be closed, so it was a massive surprise."

The home, in William Booth Road, is staffed by 70 people to provide rehabilitation and education for offenders aged from 12 to 16.

The majority are in custody or on remand for serious crimes such as murder and rape, but others are there for welfare or protection purposes.

Mr Scotland added: "We provide a service for vulnerable children, some of whom self-harm and provide a secure home with a high level of staff.

"If Orchard Lodge were to close the nearest alternative would be STCs which are the same, but with less staff meaning more vulnerable people would be more exposed.

"We have one person who self-harms, head banging and cuts himself, he would find it extremely difficult to cope. We have another that has been placed with us for his own safety after seeing his brother murdered. So for these boys it is better for them to be in a secure unit rather than a training centre."

Other secure units in the country are also faced with closure next month include Sutton Place Safe Centre in Hull and the Atkinson Unit in Exeter meaning that the children could be relocated to Southampton or Medway.

Mr Scotland added: "One of the reasons is that a lot of the boys come from a background of family dysfunction, not all of them, but most of them. Part of our aim is to reintroduce the boys back to their families, but if they are so far away there is no possibility of visits from their families."

Chief executive John Kemmis said: "This is a matter of great concern. We are seeing some of the best homes in the country facing closure taking away very child-centred provision. This is the madness of it. "

A spokesperson for the YWB said that children would be relocated within 50 miles at STCs and that families will be given expenses to visit their children.

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