On Monday 17th September 2018, the conservative run Norfolk County Council announced their proposals to close Children’s Centres across Norfolk.
Currently, there is 58 centres spread across Norfolk, an these centres have been described as a lifeline for many families. This council is intending to reduce this number to just 7, with these being more of an operational base whilst using facilities such as libraries and community centres to host activities, and putting the responsibility onto community groups.
We feel the proposal released by this conservative council is flawed and inaccurate, and certainly not sustainable. Having read the proposal several times, here we point out several of the issues with the plan.
- We want to make sure that we update the servies we have been delivering through Children’s centres and elsewhere to make them work better – in better locations, having a better range of services and with the best standards.
We disagree with this statement completely.Having read through the proposals, they are suggesting that venues such as village halls could be used to provide the services that sure start centres provide. How can this be achieved? The sure start centre have been built around their needs, and have rooms specifically setup for them such as sensory rooms, how can they bring this into a village hall? Some village halls are also cold and not suitable for a childrens centre service.
- We want the proposed Early Childhood and Family Service to make a significant difference to the lives of young children and their families. The aims of the new service would be to work with families who have children aged 0-5 years and who need extra help to cope with the demands of family life:
– Supporting them to help their children achieve their developmental milestones.
How can they achieve this by having the facilities taken away?
The proposals to remove the centres and work on an outreach basis means the children will lose stability and structure that goes with a routine of being able to attend a specifically built centre. For some families, these centres might be the only time they get out of the house.
- – Preventing more children from experiencing neglect or emotional harm.
Again, this is not achievable.Not having these centres and having the routine of families visiting on a regular basis means they patterns will not be spotted.
- Wherever possible, we want families’ needs to be met from services set up and run by the local community, and for help and support to be provided by others who have been through smiliar experiences in the past.
So, push the responsibilty back on the community itself?
Yes, these community groups are great, but they shouldn’t be seen as the norm. These are often run by volunteers and it’s putting un-necassary pressure on those people, who often use their own funds to keep groups like this going. They also will not have the same training and experience that sure start staff have got.
- Many families with children aged 0-5 years want to attend activities and groups in their local community. They want to meet other parents and create friendships and local networks of support. They can share advice and information, while their young children socialiase and make friends. Often families pay to attend these local activities and groups. We recognise that much of this already happens in many communities, but that in some places there are fewer opportunities for this to happen.
The centres are built for the children.
The proposal talks about using centres such as libaries to hold activities. These are not ideal places for children to play in, and with the number of libaries being cut and hours being slashed how does this become a sufficient plan? The proposal also says about village halls, and provides a map of village halls around the county. Does the council actually have agreements with these venues to use their facilities? If not, then they have promised something they haven’t got the permission to promise.
- Online digital offer – providing information and guidance for all.
So affecting the poorest in society? Some of the poorest families in society can’t afford internet, and it’s not practical for them to go to the local library to access the internet with their kids, as the libraries don’t have the facilities to manage the children whilst the parent get’s the help and information needed.
- We are proposing to link up the health child progamme ‘Just One Norfolk’ digital offer.
Who will be responsible for ensuring data accuracy and keeping it up to date?Government IT projects have been shown in the past to be unreliable.
- Group based supporting – working with families who need extra help.
Many parents in society don’t want to take part in group sessions.
As a new parent, some of them are embarassed to admit they can’t cope, and they feel they are doing many things wrong. This causes depression, and generally speaking they don’t want to sit in a group and admit this. They feel embarassed and ashamed.
- One-to-one support – working with families who need extra support
How will you identify who needs extra support? If you are expecting families to make contact with you when their nearest centre is several miles away from them, I don’t see how this would work. It’s a very duanting process going out for the first time following the birth of a child, and for some Public Transport is their only way of getting around. Will they really want to use a bus to get to a centre for help that is some distance away from them? The answer is no!
- For more vulnerable families with additional and complex needs, the new service will work closely with our existing Early Help and Family Focus Teams, Social Work teams and other agencies.
This already happens?
And by closing the centres, it would be removing some of the help available near people. Could departments such as social services deal with the added responsibilty under their budget?
- Families currently receiving free universal services and support from children’s centres…. would receive similiar services from community and peer-led groups. In future, families may have to pay to access some of these services.
Meaning the poorest can’t afford it.
Wages in the country haven’t as fast as bills, and many families rely on services provided by the sure start centres to help them. The poorest in the community simply won’t be able to afford to attend groups they have to pay for, and it will in turn mean their children will suffer, again increasing the risk of depression in families.
- Families would be able to access high quality online and digital information, advice & guidance, which would be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
But this is available already?
How is this an enhancement, and how can you factor every scenario online? It’s impossible to use the internet to meet the needs of every single family.
- Families likely to need extra help to cope with the demands of family would would receieve help through support groups. These would be devliered in spaces such as village halls, community centres, schools, libraries and early years settings like pre-schools and nurseries.
How can this be promised?
If the venues haven’t agreed to this, and if the groups are volunteer led it could stop at any point.
- We will have to go out to tender to find the right organisation/s to deliver the proposed group-based and one-to-one support for the new Early Childhood and Family Service.
Looking to give the service to a private company? Surely this is privitasion by the back door. This is not what’s best for the families who need help. Government doesn’t have a good track record on this kind of thing.
- Group based support – These would be at times to suit families, including evenings and weekends.
Can this be guaranteed?
Will this be reliant on people wanting to work weekends.
- Social mobility is a person’s ability to access a broader range of opportunities and experiences…. social mobility in Norfolk was among the lowest in the country.
Reasons for this?
No data provided as to the reason this conclusion was reached.
Some of the options considered:
- To extend current contracts mainting operation of curren children’s centres from April 2019 – March 2020 (possible under current plus one-year contract-arrangements) – This option is unaffordable under the budget agreed by Norfolk County Council.
This council agreed to give themselves a pay rise, knowing the budget was being cut.
This is also in contradiction to a quote from Penny Carpenter, chairman of Norfolk children’s services committee.
Penny Carpenter, chairman of Norfolk children’s services committee, denied that the changes were a result of funding cuts.”By spending our money on frontline services, rather than buildings, we’ll be able to provide more focused one-to-one and group support, with a more consistent service across the county.”About a quarter of those families who live in areas of greatest need are not accessing children’s centre services at the moment and we want to develop a service that gives them the support and help they need for their children,” she said.
- To operate 50% of the current number of children’s centres by focusing only on the ‘reach areas’ with the highest level of need, taking account of 50% of current annual budget being available – this would not be a viable option as there would be gaps left for families. In addition, it would not fulfill statutory Department of Education requirements to offer sufficient children’s centre services.
So you are offering less instead?
Instead of having about 25 centres, you are proposing only 7 hub’s where staff can work from, and people have to travel to? How does that offer a better service?
- District outreach model using only community venues, no longer operating from any designated children’s centre premises – This would be subject to formal challenge as it not fulfil the requirements of statutory Department of Education guidance to have a designated building offering services.
You also can’t guarantee availability.
- District early childhood and family bases with community outreach model – using seven of our current designated children’s centres and including libraries, day centre, village halls, community centres etc. – Preferred option as it fulfils statutory guidance and offers the opportunity to reach the most disadvantaged families across Norfolk.
You can’t identify those in need if you don’t see them in your centres. It’s unfair to expect them to try and get to a centre which isn’t anywhere near them. By targetting specific groups, others will be missed.
Other political parties have commented:
Lib Dem’s spokesman for Childrens Services, Councillor Ed Maxfield;
“For me there are two closely linked problems: that you can’t maintain a service at the same level if you halve the budget; and you risk missing out a lot of families if you ‘over target’ based on some calculation of risk. The essence of the Sure Start programme was that it was universal so that families knew where to find it and what it offered and that they could access it when they needed it. We don’t target schools only at those with the greatest need, we make them available to all then invest in extra support for those who need it. That’s how Children’s Centres were conceived.”
Labour’s spokesperson for Childrens Services, councillor Emma Corlett;
I will continue to campaign against this cruel, short-sighted cut.
The single thing that I am most proud of during our time in minority control of the council was chairing the review of children’s centres and working hard to get cross-party support for keeping all of our children’s centres open. The only county in east anglia to do so.
I am heartbroken that all that hard work has gone to waste, and they are planning to trash the servcies that so many rely on and that I care so passionately about.
For us, we have to ask why the budget has gone from £10m all the way down to £5m. What financial information was provided to reach this figure?
Having looked through the data file, their own research is a clear contradiction to the this proposal. Families were asked whether these centres make a difference to their lives, and 4 out of 5 respondents said they do, which then gives the question of why remove them if they are that important?
This proposal goes completely against the will of the people, and will leave the poorest families in society even worse off, and it will be our children that will suffer.
If you would like to read the proposal in full, take a look at https://norfolk.citizenspace.com/consultation/childrenscentres-2/
We would urge you to show the council we will not stand this for this action. Council tax has once again been risen, but they continue to remove services, all while people are still earning the same amount of money as they have for several years. This model is not sustainable.