Workers at Orchard Lodge secure children's unit in Anerley, south London, became the latest group to occupy against the closure of their workplace yesterday.
The workers, including care workers, teachers and managers, were dismissed in a meeting at 3.30pm yesterday and told to leave the site by 5pm. Around 45 of them occupied the building in response. They ended the occupation this afternoon.
The unit is the only secure children's home in London. There are concerns about the impact of its closure on the vulnerable children who were previously living there.
Secure units like Orchard Lodge have ratios of workers to children and provide more intensive care than young offender institutions and secure training centres.
No child has ever died in a secure children's home, but 30 children have died in young offender institutions and secure training centres since 1990.
The last remaining child was removed from the Orchard Lodge yesterday. 'He was bundled out in a flash and was clearly very upset,' Paul Raythorne, a senior care worker, told the Guardian newspaper. 'He was on a manslaughter charge and like many of the children who were here, he was extremely vulnerable.'
Workers and their Unison union are furious at the way staff have been treated.
'All of a sudden our manager was summoned into a meeting by the owners and told that we were all dismissed,' said Paul. 'We have not been given anything in writing. One of the owners and a couple of security guards came down and were trying to screw and bolt the doors closed but we have been forced to occupy the building.'
Private firm Glen Care Group bought the unit from Southwark council in March 2006. It had launched a legal challenge to try and keep the home open after the youth justice board (YJB) said it wanted to cut the number of beds in secure children's units.
The YJB will not renew the contracts of Kyloe House Secure Children's Home in Northumberland, Sutton Place Safe Centre in Hull, the Atkinson Unit in Exeter and Orchard Lodge—despite the fact that more children are being placed in secure units. The decision will add to the strain on the service.
Orchard Lodge had been targeted for closure since March. But for the workers, who were under the impression that the legal challenge was going well, yesterday's sudden dismissals came as a shock.
'Glen Care have failed spectacularly to consult with their staff,' said Daniel Peppiatt, a regional representative