PARENTS today spoke of their relief after Sheffield Council agreed to abandon plans to shut Rushey Meadow respite care home for children with learning difficulties after a massive public outcry.
The U-turn was made by ruling Liberal Democrats less than two hours after Coun Colin Ross, cabinet member for children and young people’s services, met with angry mums and dads who urged him to save the centre.
The council’s chief executive John Mothersole said the savings of more than £120,000, which would have been made from closing Rushey Meadow, at Carter Knowle, would have to come from elsewhere in the children’s services budget for 2011/12.
Parents said closing Rushey Meadow, which provides respite care for children who have severe learning difficulties, would have been counter-productive if it meant they could no longer cope with their children and placed them in full-time council care – which would have been more expensive for the council than keeping the home open.
Mums and dads of 16 of the 27 youngsters who attend Rushey Meadow came to the meeting at Sheffield Town Hall.
Jan Brown, one of the parents, from Chapeltown, said: “It’s fantastic news that Rushey Meadow is now safe but the council should have thought things through before proposing such a move in the first place. It’s added more stress to our already stressful lives.
“We would have really struggled if Rushey Meadow closed. The two other respite care homes are not suitable because they accommodate children with disabilities who have to have things like feeding tubes and oxygen. Our son, Blake, who is eight, has severe learning difficulties and autism. He would be a danger to the children in the other homes because he would go round pulling their tubes out.
“He goes there one night a week and one weekend in six – meaning we can spend some time with our other son, Matthew, who is 13, and with our daughter Gemma Oakley, and our grandchildren.”
Mrs Brown, aged 50, who is Blake’s full-time carer, said: “We tried the council’s other alternative, giving us a budget to purchase care, for two years and it did not work. Blake went to three separate carers and none could cope with him.”
Caroline Diaper, from Sothall, whose eight-year-old twin daughters go to Rushey Meadow, said: “There were people at the meeting representing 16 of the 27 kids who use Rushey Meadow and we all said direct payments or places elsewhere wouldn’t work. We made a powerful case to the council and I left feeling quite positive that they will think again. It’s great news they have changed their minds but the proposal should never have been considered in the first place.”
Chris Jenkinson, regional organiser for trade union Unison, representing staff at Rushey Meadow, said: “This is a victory for common sense. We are pleased that the future of Rushey Meadow is safe and that our members can now concentrate on delivering excellent services to vulnerable children and their families.
“The proposal to close the home should never have seen the light of day and our members, the children who use the home and their parents have been put through an unnecessary period of anxiety.”
Sheffield Council chief executive John Mothersole said: “We will now have to find other ways to save the money, which will have to come from the children’s services budget.”
Council leader Paul Scriven said: “We will be focusing on further efficiency savings.”