Norfolk County Council plans to close 46 of its 53 children’s centres

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All but seven of Norfolk’s 53 children’s centres could close under proposals put out by the council.

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Shadow early years minister Tracy Brabin visiting Earlham Early Years Centre in Norwich last year, one of 46 children's centres that could close

Norfolk County Council is consulting on plans to de-register 46 of its 53 children’s centres from October 2019.

It comes after Norfolk County Council agreed in February that the budget for children’s centres would be halved from £10m to £5m, with the contracts for the 12 providers of the centres coming to an end next year.

More than 5,500 people signed a petition against the decision to review the service.

Under the proposals, the county’s seven remaining children’s centres, one in each district, would become ‘Early Childhood and Family Bases’.

The de-registered centres could be used to deliver some services, the council states.

The proposed move forms part of the council’s plans to create an ‘Early Childhood and Family Service’, focusing on providing outreach within local community venues such as libraries, village halls, schools and in families’ homes.

The aim of the new service would be to work with families with children from birth to the age of five and who need extra help to ‘cope with the demands of family life’.

In its consultation, the council states that by bringing the services out of the buildings  - i.e. children’s centres - and into the community, it will be able to spend a greater proportion of the budget on providing services and frontline staff to the children and families who need it most.

The consultation runs until 9 November.

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Councillor Penny Carpenter, chair of the Children’s Services Committee at Norfolk County Council, said, ‘We want to get the right help to children and families as early as possible and create services that are fit for today’s families.

‘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.

‘We’ve agreed significant investment over four years to develop new ways of working. This includes a range of projects to help support families to keep their children safe at home.’

But Norfolk Labour group called the proposals ‘cruel and short-sighted’.

Its deputy leader Emma Corlett said, ‘The closure of 46 out of our 53 children’s centres as a result of a savage 50 per cent/ £5 million cut to their budget is devastating.  

‘Children’s centres offer a safe, confidential, child-centred place where families can access support without judgment. Saving on the building costs alone goes nowhere near the £5 million needed, and there is no honesty with the public about where the rest of the cut will fall.  

‘The idea that you can replace skilled, highly trained professionals with volunteer parents is offensive, and with large swathes of the Norfolk population at high risk of digital exclusion (as detailed in the county council’s own report) moving the universal offer online will further exclude some of our most marginalised families. These proposals are cruel and short-sighted and a false economy, inevitably costing more in the long run.’

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