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Hebrides News


Revamp of children care services and Hillcrest closure

9 February 2017

The Comhairle has revealed more information about the planned closure of Hillcrest children’s care home.


The comhairle is revamping the way it delivers care support services for young people following an increasing need for a “short breaks” for youngsters with severe and complex additional support needs.


It has formed a partnership between Action for Children, Harmeny School and Western Isles Foyer to jointly redesign and deliver services for children, young people and their families.


Harmeny School is a residential school outside Edinburgh for 8-12 year old children with severe emotional and behavioural difficulties






The council intends to commission a total service including island and mainland based residential care, respite, wrap-around support, day education and therapeutic intervention.  


Under the changes, the Hillcrest facility in Stornoway -  owned by Action for Children - will stop operating as a children’s residential home.


The council said it was not being used nearly as much as before yet the authority is still paying for the full service.


Hillcrest can accommodate four children in care and also has one respite space.


Over the last year it has been half full. Very recently, the facility has only been a quarter used, according to a council report.


It is “not viable” to maintain Hillcrest with only a 25% occupancy and no current agreement for redeploying the workforce, added the report.


Hillcrest is not “fit for purpose” without considerable redevelopment and expenditure, says a report. Neither is any of the current residential properties held by the Comhairle or partners.


The council wants to replace it with a modern larger purpose built facility to be used for children in care as well as short breaks and emergency respite for young people needing care.


Costs for a similar unit were previously estimated at £2 million.


A site at Back was “inappropriate” according to a council report.


The council is now looking at constructing the new facility by the Sandwick Learning Centre, formerly Sandwickhill school, outside Stornoway.


It is understood the earmarked land is not in the council’s ownership. Nor has planning permission been applied for.


A council report said: “Work is currently being undertaken to establish whether this site is available for development.”


Once permissions are granted, construction work would be “somewhere between” 12-18 months.


Meanwhile, adaptations are being made in one room in Hillcrest to increase its capacity to provide short breaks, as a temporary measure.


Though it is suggested there would be no job losses, at a council meeting this week, Bernard Chisholm, director of education and children’s services, highlighted: “We cannot guarantee there will be no redundancies but we will work to avoid that.”


While councillors agreed the redesign strategy - which means closing the Hillcrest children’s care home -  a further vote is required over the main elements of the revamp and the proposed Sandwick care facility.


The council has asked Action for Children not to sell the building meanwhile so it can assess if can be used for another purpose.


A spokesman for the children’s services partnership said: “We are in discussion about the future use of the Hillcrest resource with a view to its use as resource to support the partnership’s service delivery.


“Service managers from both Action for Children and CnES are working with other colleagues to assess the type and level of staffing needed to deliver services jointly.


“This is a new area for all and will initially involve staff ‘shadowing’ each other to learn each other’s working practices, standards, procedures and policies.”


He added: “At the end of this piece of work - expected to take about three months - the partnership will then agree how best to use the staff and other resources to take forward redesigned services.


“The aim of the partnership is to retain and develop workforce skills and, to that end, there are no anticipated job losses.


“However, it is recognised that some people may not wish to change the way in which they currently work.


“This is an area that respective human resources teams will soon begin to address, to ensure that staff have the opportunity to clarify what the changes will mean for them.”