The Secure Accommodation Network (SAN) chair, Roy Walker, has written an open letter to Children's Secretary Ed Balls urging him to save further secure children's homes from closure.
According to the group, in the last five years the number of secure children's homes in England and Wales has decreased to twenty. Mr Walker claims that the number will continue to fall if action is not taken to reverse the trend.
In the letter, Mr Walker said: Despite the high quality of the care provided by secure children's homes, the number of welfare referrals has dropped significantly suggesting that other less regulated forms of care are being used, often at greater cost and which in SAN's view do not meet or enhance the life chances of the children placed there.
"Whilst the role of the Youth Justice Board in purchasing secure homes beds has raised standards in some areas, it has also skewed the market in their favour. In all likelihood the next round of tendering for beds by the Board, due to commence shortly for Contracts to begin in July 2009, will result in further closures. This is because they have reduced the beds they require from 235 to around 207 and have adopted, in our view, a market orientated view to purchasing based on costs and the size of units rather than focus on the children to be cared for.
"Can we afford to stand by and see this important cog in the continuum of care be diminished further? What will be left in its place? More importantly what can be done to support this important area of child care provision? If children have to be 'locked up' does it not make sense to do in a child centered, child focused environment with high levels of staffing and where their social, emotional, health and educational needs are met?"