Children's centres face ongoing fight for survival in 2019

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The new year may be just a few days old, but children’s centres in Surrey and the London borough of Lambeth are already facing the axe.

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Thousands of vulnerable families using services such as stay and play, parenting and other specialist support stand to lose out as councils continue to struggle with cuts in Government funding.

Lambeth is consulting on plans that would see the number of centres delivering children’s centres activities cut from 23 to 18.

The council says that despite having one of the largest cuts in funding it has so far managed to keep open all of its 23 children’s centres, which it claims is one of the highest numbers in London.

The Government has cut funding the council can spend on children’s centres in Lambeth by £1.4 million due to changes in the Dedicated Schools Grant, on top of cuts of £40m to the council over the next few years.

Under the plans, Coin Street, Heathbrook, Lark Hall, Weir Link and Sunnyhill children’s centres would no longer offer children’s centre activities.

However, the council says it will work with schools and communities to make sure that these children’s centre buildings continue to be used to provide services for young children and their families.

For example, Weir Link would continue to offer childcare provision and there would be discussion with the centre’s trustees about how to develop the building for community use.

Coin Street family and children’s centre, which is rated outstanding Ofsted, is also facing cuts.

The purpose-built centre has been operating since 2007, and on average over the last four years Coin Street has supported 1,506 unique individuals a year across both Lambeth and Southwark.

This figure includes parents and children, and more often than not work with a particular parent and child, around 753 families (Lambeth and Southwark) over the course of a year

Many families attend several activities over the course of a week. Groups under threat include groups supporting young parents, stay and play sessions, a dads' group and an LGBT parents group.

The number of contacts for Lambeth families in October was 235 – for example, attending a stay and play, a parenting course, or a 1-2-1 support session.

Unlike the borough’s other children’s centres, Coin Street is run by a social enterprise, and says that it is unusual in that it is not school-led provision, working with families with babies from three months, through to pre-teens, teens and young adults, with activities at weekends and during school holidays.

If the proposals go through, families and children currently using the Coin Street family and children’s centre will have a 25-minute walk to the nearest children’s centre in Kennington or Oval.

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Families at Coin Street held an event last month to protest against the children's centre cuts

David Hopkins, Coin Street’s director of community said he was concerned that vulnerable families would fall through the net.

‘We believe that the Coin Street family and children’s centre provides strong value for money as a partner to Lambeth Council. We have consistently increased the amount we invest as an organisation in children’s centre provision year on year as local authority funding has diminished.

He added, ‘We hope we and our families will be able to convince Lambeth to review their proposals to ensure we are able to continue to provide families and children – including those most at risk – with the best start in life.

‘The proposed cuts will hit our Lambeth families and children hard and are likely to have significant impact in the longer term, particularly to vulnerable families and those most at risk.

‘Experience tells us that families, especially vulnerable families, access services where they feel safe and where they have built relationships and trust with an organisation and members of the team there.’

These proposals do not affect Coin Street’s day nursery provision, which is funded separately through a mix of parent fees and funding.

Surrey

Surrey County Council is proposing to cut the number of its children’s centres by more than half from 58 to 21 hubs and nine satellite bases.

Currently the children’s centres support largely support families from birth to five.

The council is proposing a targeted approach for services provided by children’s centres to the most vulnerable families with children aged 0 –11 years in Surrey and to reflect this it also intends to rename the children’s centres.

The consultation on the plans, which also includes libraries, community recycling centres, concessionary bus services and SEND services closes today (4 January).

Last year, Ofsted inspected the council’s children’s services and found them to be inadequate.

The council says that it is facing ‘unprecedented financial pressures in children’s and adults’ social care due to rising demand and falling government funding’.

Setting out the plans in the Family Resilience Consultation: Phase One: Children’s Centres, the council says, ‘To make sure we spend money on those who need it the most, we think we should have centres in areas with the highest number of children living in homes where no-one works or there isn’t much money coming in.

‘This will mean having 21 main centres with at least one in each of the 11 districts or boroughs in Surrey. There will also be smaller centres that will offer fewer services but there will be places where workers who are supporting families can meet with them.


‘We don’t think we should have mobile centres any more as they are expensive to keep on the road. But outreach workers will still support families either in their homes or through various group activities or courses. They will also support any families in need who don’t live near a centre.’

  • Lambeth Council’s consultation closes on 10 February. Take part here
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