Plea by 16-year-old reveals imminent crisis in care provision for vulnerable children across Britain
In his letter to David Cameron, the teenager said: 'I am worried and scared about my home being taken away from me.' Photograph: Markus Schreiber/AP
An abused teenager who was rejected by 15 foster families has written to the prime minister begging him to intervene and stop the closure of children's homes.
The 16-year-old's plea – which has received no response from Downing Street – has revealed an imminent crisis in care provision for vulnerable children as several councils across Britain prepare to close or consider closing residential homes for children to save money.
Essex county council, which is cutting its overall budget by £98m this year, is set to close all seven of its homes, leading to redundancies for up to 119 staff. Children will be moved into "alternative placements". It was this threat that prompted the boy, who cannot be named for legal reasons, to write to David Cameron. "I am worried and scared about my home being taken away from me," he wrote.
"I come from a background of physical and emotional neglect and have had 15 foster placements before settling [in a children's home] and in my view there is a need for consistent residential care.
"I have made lots of attachments with the staff and while I am aware the homes are closing due to money I think this is not a good enough reason for me to be taken away and moved to another placement, making it my 17th move which will upset me more." Social workers, independent care workers and charities, including Barnardo's, are deeply concerned that closing homes could leave many children being "shifted from pillar to post" with no permanent home.
The growing criticism comes after a week when the adult care sector was plunged into crisis by revelations of abuse at a residential home in Bristol and the financial difficulties of Southern Cross, Britain's biggest elderly care home provider, which has brought it close to collapse.
A nationwide shortage of foster carers for children has long been a problem and many in the sector complain of a postcode lottery of support, training and quality control. Last year more than 10% of children in care were moved three times or more as placements broke down. Figures show that 1,200 children had between five and nine placements during 2010, while 130 had more than 10.
Anne Marie Carrie, chief executive of Barnardo's, told the Observer: "It's called 'placement breakdown', but that's a euphemism for yet another person failing these children. Their own parents have failed them, now the system is failing them."
She added: "In terms of the options, care homes are essential; undoubtedly for children like this boy, that is what best meets their needs and we need to keep that choice there."
Gloucestershire has already shut all its children's homes and Lancashire county council is closing a third, reducing the number of places from 90 to 60. Conservative councillor Susie Charles, the cabinet member for children and schools at Lancashire council, said: "We feel children are better off with foster carers and follow the ethos of doing whatever is best for the child."
But she said they recognised some children's homes had to be kept. "We are closing 15 at the moment, but will phase it to make sure the children in them are moved appropriately."
Essex county council declined to comment.
In his letter, the teenager said he hoped he could play a role in improving the care system for children: "I support positive change and hope residential homes will continue to provide the help and support young people in care deserve, and if I can go some way in helping children's homes improve and develop their understanding of us, I feel I would have given back something to those who have supported me.
"All I ask is that you read my views and consider them when making decisions in future."
A Downing Street spokesman said the letter had been received but declined to comment on what the response would be.