Work starts on “ground-breaking” children’s assessment centre scheme
Work has begun on a ground-breaking scheme which will stop children with complex needs being sent hundreds of miles away for care.
Bwthyn y Ddol will be a tree-lined haven for children needing assessment next to Eirias Park, off Abergele Road in Colwyn Bay, and the first purpose-built unit of its kind in Wales.
It’s a joint venture between Conwy county and Denbighshire councils and Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, on the former Meadow Lodge site which has lain dormant for seven years.
It will be able to assess four children at a time with complex needs, for up to 12 weeks, under a team of two social workers, two family support workers, a psychologist and team manager who is also an occupational therapist.
There will be two additional “emergency beds” for children who need immediate respite from challenging situations, when family relationships break down and children require a safe space.
The experts will assess the appropriate care options for children aged between six and 17 years old, with the hope more families are coached, nurtured and ultimately reunited.
The aim is to stop local children being sent away to expensive, specialist centres, sometimes hundreds of miles from their schools, friends and support networks – which doesn’t always lead to their best outcomes.
Lucy Reid, vice chairman of Betsi Cadwaladr, believes the centre will make a “massive difference”.
She said: “We are getting such complex cases. It used to be 15, 16 and 17 year-olds year-olds needing this care but now we are seeing 11, 12, 13 and 14 year-olds with complex problems.”
In 2019-20 it cost Conwy council an average of £180,000 per child to send them out of county on placements at specialist centres, because none were available locally.
Social care bosses believe sending kids away also adds another pressure onto children who are crying out for stability in their lives.
It was the brainchild of social care and mental health staff from Conwy and Denbighshire local authorities and Betsi Cadwaladr UHB.
In the early stages of development there were rumours it was destined to be a bail hostel after misinformation was put into the public domain, which led to objections from local people.
However the true nature of the development was explored fully during the planning process and the whispers died down.
Cheryl Carlisle, Conwy county council’s cabinet member for social care and safeguarding, said: “Our complex needs children have to go out of county at the moment.
“Bwthyn y Ddol is a pioneering idea with ourselves, Betsi Cadwaladr and Denbighshire council, using psychiatrists and psychotherapists to assess what children need and give them appropriate treatment.
“They may go from here to hospital, they may be self-harming, they may be suffering abuse – they may be smaller children. It’s just the right thing to do for these children.”
Charlotte Vickery, Denbighshire council’s interim head of children’s services, said it was “the first of this model in Wales” because they’d all sat down and “designed what the children needed”.
She added: “It will help children and families in crisis and at risk of coming into care. There will be a multi-disciplinary team on site, working with them to try and turn things around and give them a better outcome.
“It will allow us to work together to give the most appropriate treatment, assessment and intervention, where other community services might not be able to offer it to them.”
She said there would be an “holistic approach” to solving family issues, with appropriate mental health and emotional support, but also looking at the root causes of the problems from housing, to finance and safeguarding.
As the first spade symbolically went into the ground, Huw Triggs, construction director of contractors WRW, said it was “great to be doing something which gives back”.
Today’s ceremony marked the start of the building phase and the partners hope the centre will be ready for commissioning in 12 months time.
By Jez Hemming – Local Democracy Reporter
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