Children's homes to go private

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HOMES for deeply disturbed and dangerous children are to be run by the private sector under plans to be announced tomorrow by the Health Secretary, Virginia Bottomley. The children will include some who have committed rape and murder but are too young to go to jail.

The move - which was foreshadowed in an announcement by Mrs Bottomley last March - will draw fire from critics who believe that local authorities already employ those who are most skilled at dealing with young children with severe criminal and behavioural problems.

Mrs Bottomley will promise a consultation period as the move will require an amendment to the 1989 Children Act to allow the private sector to take responsibility for newly- built homes.

She intends the new homes to house children who frequently run away from care, those likely to do severe damage to themselves or others, and youngsters who have been sentenced to more than 14 years for serious crimes. Most of the youths will be aged from 14 to 18.

Up to now local authorities have been responsible for providing secure accommodation for disturbed youngsters. But both the Treasury and Department of Health have been restive at the rising costs and local authorities' alleged reluctance to provide a breakdown of their charges.

Last night Mrs Bottomley said: 'What I'm seeking is care, policy, control and cost effectiveness. There's no longer justification for the prejudice against independent provision. Voluntary organisations and others will be able to share responsibility for the provision of secure accommodation for young people. Any holder of my office knows that no provider has a monopoly of competence. All units will continue to be subject to regulation and rigorous inspection.'

Estimates are that each

secure unit costs between pounds 200,000 and pounds 250,000 to build and around pounds 1,600 a week for every child to run. About 1,300 children are detained in any one year and the majority stay for around a month.