Manager’s slip sparks fears over Sunderland children’s home

Ian Mearns MP (left) and Phil Stobart

Ian Mearns MP (left) and Phil Stobart

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RESIDENTS’ concerns over a children’s home have been fuelled after its manager said young adults would be housed there.

Former Centrepoint base Oakwood House, in Hendon, was given the go-ahead by council planners to become a home for troubled youngsters aged 12-17, and a house of multiple occupation (HMO) for adults.

Neighbours objected to the plans, concerned that vulnerable children could be housed in the same building as criminals.

A Sunderland City Council planning committee approved the plans at a meeting in June, on the basis the two facilities would be separate.

However, at the opening of the Forever Care home, manager Phil Stobart said they would be welcoming young people aged between 16 and 21.

He added: “We help them to move from supported living, through being semi-independent to full independence.

“Because of some of the problems these young people have experienced, they can have difficulty building relationships and genuine trust.”

Forever Care’s base in Toward Road was officially opened by MP Ian Mearns, who as a member of the Commons Education Select Committee, conducted a report earlier this year called “16 plus care options”.

After reading the Echo story, one worried resident contacted us to say: “It seems like Centrepoint is in again by the back door.

“Forever Care were very vocal when they put in the planning application, saying it was not going to be like Centrepoint.

“They said it was for children between 12 and 17.

“When Centrepoint was here we residents were tortured.

“I had thousands of pounds in damage done to my car. I am worried this is going to be exactly the same.”

Mr Stobart denies there will be adults in the facility, and claimed he referred to changes in legislation where young people can stay in foster care until they are 21.

He said: “It was a slip of the tongue. The Forever Care maximum age is up to 18.”

Centrepoint ran a hostel on the site between 2008 and 2012, when there were numerous complaints of drug use, anti-social behaviour and people having sex in the street.

In its application for the new facility, Forever Care said it would not accept tenants in the adult section with addictions or a criminal record that has included serious violent crime, sexual offences and arson.

It also promised the children and adult sides would be separated by locked doors and staffed round the clock, and drugs and alcohol would be banned.

Sunderland City Council said it was aware of concerns “past and present” about the premises.

It added: “ForeverCare is a private company that has decided to offer its services in the city. The council is in contact with the company to ensure all necessary regulatory conditions are met and it is continuing to monitor the situation.”