- Rise in number of children’s centres at risk
- Norfolk dad campaigning to save 46 centres
Fears are mounting that children’s centres are on the brink of extinction as the number under threat continues to rise.
The national Save our Children’s Centres (SOCC) campaign told Nursery World it is has seen a ‘huge’ increase in councils closing or reducing its number of centres and it fears there will soon be no children’s centres dedicated to early years.
Action for Children, which operates 128 children’s centres, said provision is closing or being ‘hollowed out, abandoning tens of thousands of children and families who need support’.
A snapshot survey carried out by Nursery World reveals that in the past 12 months at least 24 centres have closed, while 64 have been earmarked for closure across three local authorities. A further 125 children’s centres are at risk of closure as local authorities put out their plans for consultation.
Surrey County Council has yet to make a decision about the future of its 58 centres or confirm a date for public consultation. However, it is understood that any changes will be made from September 2019.
In April, Cambridgeshire County Council closed 17 centres as part of cost-saving measures.
The council now operates ten child and family centres, delivered across 15 buildings, along with 12 child and family zones. The council said its new approach is designed to better meet families’ needs.
The number of children’s centres in Birmingham has reduced from 29 to 22, with the de-registration of 24 buildings. The model, introduced in January, has resulted in a reduced number of building-based services but an expansion in community-based provision. The service is now being delivered from 22 hubs, 19 outreach sites and community venues.
DUE TO CLOSE
Leicestershire County Council is to close nearly half of its children’s centres. By October 2019, 19 of its 40 centres will shut. Campaigners have managed to save six that had been earmarked for closure after 5,000 people signed a petition.
A total of 25 out of 39 children’s centres in Warwickshire are to close by 1 October 2019. From this date, services will be run from 14 children and family centres.
In Shropshire, the council is to close 20 of its 27 children’s centres. Seven ‘Early Help Family bases’ will now be created. The Children’s Centres will continue to operate until the end of this year.
Norfolk County Council is currently consulting on proposals to close all but seven of its centres. This would see 46 children’s centres de-registered from October 2019. The consultation runs until 9 November.
A campaign to save the children’s centres has been launched by a parent whose sons attend a nursery attached to a centre (see below).
In Buckinghamshire, more than half of its children’s centres are at risk. The county council has put forward one proposal to close 21 of its 35 centres. The remaining 14 centres would become ‘family centres’.
The consultation will close on 13 December and a decision made in March 2019. No changes to early help services will be made until September 2019.
This follows a previous consultation proposing to replace the county’s 35 children’s centres with nine ‘Early Help bases’, which was scrapped due to opposition from councillors and parents.
Both Nottingham City Council and Somerset County Council planned to close some of their children’s centres. However, following consultations they decided to make changes to the way centres are run.
In Nottingham, the council wants to increase the number of volunteers running the service and introduce a more ‘targeted approach’ to help families deemed ‘most at risk’.
In Somerset, there will be a reduction of services available at a number of centres.
THE STORY SO FAR
This adds to the 1,000 or so children’s centres that have shut since 2009, according to a report from the Sutton Trust in April, co-authored by Professor Kathy Sylva from Oxford University.
The report, which was based on data from summer 2017, warned that the survival of the children’s centre programme is at a ‘tipping point’, and correctly predicted more cuts to centres across local authorities this year.
Following this, the children and families minister Nadhim Zahawi appeared to confirm that the long-awaited Government consultation on the future of children’s centres is off the table.
Just last month, the Institute for Fiscal Studies’ first annual report on education spending in England revealed investment in Sure Start has fallen from £1.8 billion in 2009-10 to over £576 million in 2017-18.
The situation is expected to worsen given Local Government Association figures, published a fortnight ago, showing children’s services face a funding shortfall of £1.1 billion in 2019/20, rising to £3 billion in 2024/25.
Reports suggest Suffolk County Council will need to make cuts of £25 million next year, for example.
Jess Tomlinson, spokesperson for the National Save Our Children’s Centres campaign, said, ‘Many local authorities are cutting over half of their centres. In Warwickshire, 14 remain out of 39. Hampshire announced the closure of 43 of their 54 centres last year. These are just some areas. The other areas we are working with all have similar closures planned.
‘We fear there will be no children’s centres dedicated to early years left soon and the consequences will be felt for generations to come.
‘We have centres closing up and down the country despite evidence to back the need for early years services. The new model seems to be that of hubs, but when local authorities are pushed for answers on what these will offer, we are told very little.
‘Sadly it seems the importance of early years just isn’t recognised by the Government and that everything achieved since the original Sure Start Children’s Centres will be lost.’
Imran Hussain, director of policy and campaigns at Action for Children, said, ‘We’ve seen cuts of 40 per cent in spending on early help services, such as children’s centres designed to help spot the signs of neglect and abuse. This is a recipe for more children going into the care system, because the right help isn’t being made available at the right time.
‘The closure of services helping parents help their children develop and become school-ready undermines the Government’s stated commitment on social mobility.’
Labour has pledged an extra £500 million per year of Sure Start funding, which will be ringfenced in local authority budgets. Shadow early years minister Tracy Brabin said, ‘Every single Sure Start and children’s centre that closes is a devastating loss to their community. These centres provide an incredibly important service, yet some cash-strapped local authorities are forced to make the decision to close or reduce them.’
A DfE spokesperson said, ‘Local councils can and should decide how to organise and provide the services for families in their areas – whether this is through children’s centre buildings or in different ways.’
Norfolk Children’s Centres campaign
A father of two from Bowthorpe, a village outside Norwich, has launched a campaign to save Norfolk children’s centres from closure, including a petition that had received nearly 900 signatures by the time Nursery Worldwent to press.
Jon Watson’s two children attend the nursery attached to the Bowthorpe and West Earlham Sure Start Children’s Centre, run by Norfolk Community Health and Care NHS Trust on behalf of Norfolk County Council, and which is at risk of being de-registered.
Mr Watson told Nursery World, ‘Without the support of staff at Sure Start our eldest child, who has glue ear, would have been really behind other children his age. The nursery helped us communicate with him, which boosted his development.
‘If the children’s centre closes, the nursery will be gone. This is a purpose-built setting with a sensory room and SEN centre. There is no alternative provision available locally that is comparable. All the nurseries have waiting lists. The only option we would be left with is a community-run group, which runs for just one hour, doesn’t take childcare funding and is not led by qualified staff.’
* Clarification: After Nursery World went to press Cambridgeshire County Council contacted us with the following information:
'We had 40 designated children’s centres in 2009 – we now have 27 buildings (including 4 new sites) delivering as part of the new ‘Child and Family Centre’ offer, 15 of which are used as child and family centres and 12 child and family zones.
'17 children’s centres are no longer used as child and family centres but are still used as pre-schools and other childcare services for children aged 0-5.'