Browning House closure threatens to split more families

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From; Sarah Greenan, Helmsley Drive, West Park, Leeds.

STEVE Walker of Leeds City Council suggests in relation to the closure of Browning House (“Service for vulnerable to shut…” Yorkshire Post, November 24), that there are now other facilities available for families which can offer an equivalent service.

Mr Walker and his colleagues at the local authority are doing their utmost to provide suitable services for families in an impossible financial climate, and they are not responsible for the demise of Browning House.

Those who practice in the field of family law are unlikely however to agree that what is now available makes up for the loss of Browning House.

Browning House has a 60-year history of providing support to families in difficulties. In the last few decades, it has specialised in making available residential assessments to parents who are considered to present a possible risk to children in a variety of ways, so that a high degree of supervision is needed before the local authority can be sure that the parents can safely look after a child.

There were two aspects to the services provided by Browning House: first, a very high degree of monitoring while the parents lived at the House, so that potential risks could be picked up at an early stage and the child protected; second, the carrying out of intensive work with the parents to improve their parenting skills and their general mental health so that they were equipped to look after a child in the outside world.

That work included general counselling, psychological therapy, parenting classes, play training, counselling for the victims of domestic violence (and the perpetrators, where they were prepared to accept their past behaviour and seek to change it) and general guidance about child care, budgeting, nutrition etc. It was an extremely comprehensive and intensive package. Parents who were in Browning House were expected to engage and participate, with the assessments being ended if they did not. It was not a soft option for parents from whom a high degree of commitment was expected.

Browning House dealt with some of the most disadvantaged of parents and it had its failures as well as its successes, but I am sure that most of those who have experience of its clients will have seen parents whose lives were turned around by a stay there, and whose children were able to live with their birth parents, rather than being subjected to the uncertainty of adoption or long-term fostering. Browning House and similar assessment centres throughout the country have been beset with financial pressures resulting from the constraints on local authority social services budgets, and also from changes to legal aid. It remains to be seen how many of those centres will survive. Their closure removes an important method of keeping families together.

More children will grow up separately from their parents and siblings as a result. There are short term financial savings in reducing the use of places like Browning House, but there are long term costs – financial and social – which will become apparent in the next few years.