Birmingham children's centres under threat

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Lakeside Children’s Centre in Erdington is one of 26 children’s centres that could be facing closure in Birmingham.

Birmingham City Council has announced a consultation on the future of children’s centres, health visiting services and parenting support services in the city.

Under the terms of the service model proposal outlined in the consultation, 26 of Birmingham’s 70 children’s centres could be closed as the council looks to bring together health and education services for young children and pregnant women in centres across the city to create local ‘early years hubs’ and a network of family services.

The council has already awarded the contract for the delivery of these services to Birmingham Community Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, in partnership with Barnardo’s, Spurgeons Children’s Charity, St Paul’s Community Development Trust and The Springfield Project.

A delegation from Lakeside Children's Centre, including staff, parents and local church representatives, as well as the Labour MP for Erdington Jack Dromey, shadow education secretary Angela Rayner and GMB general secretary Tim Roache, presented a petition against the closure and letters of endorsement of the centre at Downing Street yesterday.

Children’s centre manager Julie Doyle said, ‘Lakeside is one of the biggest children’s centres in one of the most deprived areas. The centre is on an estate with nothing; no shop, doctors, public transport or school. This is the only facility residents have got and that is why we are so passionate about fighting to keep it open.

‘We work alongside a lot of local service providers including local churches and housing providers, and do a lot of work with the elderly to make it an intergenerational hub too. That was always our aim – that everyone should benefit from it. The closure would devastate the community.’

The city’s early years services currently offer support to around 100,000 parents and 80,000 children.

lakeside-children-s-centres

Lakeside Children's Centre, Erdington

Local MP Mr Dromey said, ‘Children’s centres give kids the best possible start in life. They are a lifeline to struggling children and parents from poorer backgrounds. It is scandalous that Lakeside in Wyrley Birch in Kingstanding, one of the poorest wards in Britain, should now be facing closure.

‘If Lakeside and other children’s centres were to close, the local community would suffer as a result. Vulnerable families would lose trusted advice and support from experienced staff.’

The council says the proposal will not affect the nursery services or early education provision.

Brigid Jones, council cabinet member for children and families, said, ‘We need to target services towards those children and families that need them the most, and where they need them most. So rather than focusing on bricks and mortar we need to make services available at places children and families use the most – for example, having access points in GP surgeries.’

The council ran an initial consultation between November 2015 and February 2016, the results of which were used to shape the service model proposal outlined in the current consultation document.

Ms Jones explained, ‘When we initially set out these ideas we had a very high level of support – about 80 per cent – and we also responded to suggestions, including having universal services for children with disabilities.

‘The new system will provide a far more integrated service, so instead of having 76 different contracts, creating a widely differing service depending on where you live, there will be one contract with Birmingham Community Healthcare.’

Mr Roache said, ‘Children's centres aren't just vital for providing the best start for young kids, but they are also hugely important to communities and support for parents too.

‘If we invest in our kids - and those who look after them - at the earliest opportunity, all of us will feel the benefit.

‘The children's centre in Erdington will be yet another of hundreds which have been forced to close their doors in the face of the very people who need them most.

‘The Tories should be ashamed that their cuts have seen so many children's centres close, but I hope this petition makes them wake up and see how much children's centres across the country are both a cherished and much needed asset.’

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