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Actress takes to streets in bid to save care home

Samantha Morton to lead demonstration after social worker's plea

Ian Johnston
Monday 09 March 2009 01:00 GMT

She is a Hollywood actress who has twice been nominated for an Oscar and counts the likes of Kate Moss and Robert Carlyle among her friends.

But Samantha Morton has never chosen to disown her traumatic upbringing in Nottingham, where she spent some of her formative years in care.

And today, at the request of a social worker who helped bring her up, Ms Morton will lead a demonstration in her home city against plans to close of one of its four children's homes, which campaigners say will deny a new generation of vulnerable young people the same kind of help she received.

The council says it has been forced to consider closing a home as part of cuts which will see some 350 staff made redundant because it needs to save £20m because of the credit crunch.

But at a demonstration in Nottingham today, Ms Morton, now 31, will argue in a speech that closing children's homes is the wrong way to do this.

"A question for the council: where will the suffering children go?" she said, ahead of the rally in Old Market Square.

"I would not be where I am today without the support of my residential social workers. Living in a children's home for me was a positive experience. I beg the council to reconsider cutting these vital services to children in care, who are already as we know among the most vulnerable members of society."

Ms Morton, who earned Oscar nominations for performances in the film In America and Woody Allen's Sweet And Lowdown, will be able to draw on her own childhood experiences – of a violent, drunken father and a mother she once said "didn't pay me any attention, she didn't care" – and how the care system intervened to help her.

At the age of 13, Ms Morton was living in a children's home and her artistic talent – which Tom Cruise would later describe as "lightning in a bottle" – flowered. She started writing poetry and also managed to convince reluctant executives at Central TV to give her a place in one of the company's drama workshops, saying she "could do better than all those soap stars".

Ms Morton has said she might have killed herself at the age of 16, such was the turmoil in her life, and when asked of what in her life she was most proud, she replied: "Still being here, because I could easily have not been here."

Peter Savage, regional organiser for Unison, claimed the council was considering removing help from similarly vulnerable young people because it had wasted too much money on outside consultants: "Children's homes are good for emergency care – it isn't always possible to get foster carers," he said.

"Even if there is some slack in the system, that's needed for emergency care. If you haven't got the homes, I don't know what you do if a child has to be taken into care. Is the director of social services or some individual meant to take them home with them?"

He said Morton's presence had generated extra interest in the campaign to stop the closure of the home.

Unison and others have been lobbying individual councillors in an attempt to convince them "not to believe the spin" and that all the homes should stay open. The council says despite making the cuts, it would spend an extra £15.9m over three years "on protecting vulnerable children and providing support for the disabled and elderly", although Unison disputes the figures saying they are based on imaginative accounting.

A spokesman for the council said: "The proposal to close one children's home is part of a shift to provide the best type of accommodation for young children in our care. The council will continue its drive to recruit additional foster carers to ensure that children in care live in family settings wherever possible. No child will be affected adversely by the proposed closure."

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