Saturday, 26 May 2007

Home troubles mount
TROUBLED teenagers have gone missing from a controversial children's home more than 220 times in less than a year, new figures have revealed.
Wellesley Community Home, run by Sunderland Council, takes in children from Wearside and other parts of the North East, some of whom are awaiting trial for criminal offences. The figure obtained by the Echo includes the number of arrests made by police both in and outside the home, due to close in 2007. Using the powers of the Freedom of Information Act, the Echo has obtained details of children who have gone on the run from Wellesley over the last 11 months, as well as arrest figures linked to the home. Youngsters are still being sent to Wellesley from Sunderland as it winds down over the next two years. As part of a multi-million pound plan, the children will be relocated across Sunderland to foster homes or looked-after care, while the 27-bed care home is closed down. Staff from Wellesley will be based on Wearside as part of a new support team. It has emerged that between October last year and September, police were alerted 223 times about children going missing from Wellesley. In January, nine youngsters – half of its residents – walked out 45 times, while in July a dozen children logged 44 unauthorised absences. Last month, just one teen went missing. Police, meanwhile, have been called into the home eighteen times to arrest residents for alleged offences ranging from assault to criminal damage. Five more were arrested outside the home between October last year and September. Retired railway worker George Tuff, who lives on the Solingen estate next to the home, said the figures for incidents outside Wellesley were the tip of the iceberg. Mr Tuff, who chairs the Solingen Residents’ Association, said: “The problems have gone on for years. Sunderland Council either doesn’t want to know or they are not being informed. The police seemed to be dealing with things and the
message isn’t getting back to Sunderland Council, but the problem hasn’t got any better.” Wellesley was founded in 1868 as a boys’ school and is owned by a board of trustees. Sunderland Council manages it and takes in children from across the North East. A spokesman for Sunderland City Council said most of its unauthorised absences at Wellesley were “short term and the young person does not go far”. “The longer term are generally when the young person returns to his home area. In these situations it is almost invariably the case that the young person is staying at home.” He added that the number of youngsters “who offend is a small minority” adding: “It is, however, worth noting that the majority of offending behaviour is within the home, directed at property, other young people or staff. Relatively little crime is perpetrated within the community either in Blyth or Sunderland.”

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