On Wednesday (8 November), the council’s Cabinet agreed proposals to turn 14 of its 39 centres into ‘children and family centres’.
It follows a consultation over the summer which outlined plans to turn 12 of the county’s 39 children’s centres into ‘family hubs’.
Under the move, which sees two children’s centres given a reprieve, 14 ‘children and family centres’ will remain across Warwickshire. The aim of the centres will be to provide support to a wider age range of families with children up to 19 years old, or 25 if they have disabilities.
A further 16 children’s centres will be used to deliver outreach services, although these won’t meet the statutory criteria for what constitutes a children’s centre.
The remaining 11 children’s centres in Warwickshire will be de-registered, with the changes coming into effect from April 2018.
Jess Tomlinson from the Save Warwickshire Children’s Centres campaign group said, 'Children's centres are what helped me become the mum I am today. We moved to Nuneaton not knowing any other parents. I don't have a relationship with my mum so I didn't really have anyone I could turn to for help in the days after my eldest child's birth. Children's centre staff helped me gain confidence in my parenting and gave me advice when I needed it.
'My youngest son was born in Nuneaton and has always used children's centres.The support we received from the centres when it was discovered that my son wasn't hitting his milestones was amazing.'
She added, 'I am a firm believer that early intervention is key to children having the best start in life. To cut the services again now after cutting them to the bone in 20013 doesn't make sense. I understand the council has to make more cuts, but there must be a limit. Other children's services are on their knees. There is a 86-week waiting list for CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) and it takes, on average, two years to get an ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) diagnosis across Wawickshire at the moment. The knock-on effect it will have will last for generations.
'What happens to the children that slip through the net? The new centres will be expected to cater to a much larger number of people with less buildings. They will not be able to cope with the workload and there will be children that end up lost in the system with families getting no support at all. Childrens centres should be cherished, more money should be put into early years provision, not taken away.'
Warwickshire County Councillor Jeff Morgan, portfolio holder for children’s services, said, ‘We have made an important decision which will enable us to offer quality services for all, and better support for those families who need us most.
‘We have to do things differently in order to prioritise our services rather than buildings, some of which are expensive to maintain and not being used efficiently. We have to invest our budget in developing appropriate and future-proof services which help people to help themselves and identify potential issues as early as possible.
‘We know that currently children’s centres aren’t suitable for everyone, and that the system needs a radical rethink in order for us to do the best for the most people. Any period of change is unsettling and we have taken every opportunity to listen to people’s concerns and offer reassurance where we can.
'The consultation had an incredible response which clearly demonstrates how important and valued our early years services are. We have listened to people, taking on board what they value the most and this has been reflected in the plans. We are committed to building on the successful foundations laid by our children’s centres as we begin work with partners and community groups to reshape our offer to Warwickshire families.’