Children's centres face ongoing decline in numbers

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Lambeth Council has approved the closure of five of its children’s centres, while those in other parts of the country are also under threat.

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Parents of the Cherry Tree Children's Centre action group staged a protest outside Lambeth Town Hall

At a meeting of its cabinet last week, Lambeth council made the decision to press ahead with the closure of five of its 23 children’s centres, following a public consultation at the beginning of the year.

The closures are a result of a £1.4m cut to the funding the council receives from the Government for children’s centres, as well as cuts of £40m to the council over the next few years.

The five children’s centres that will have their funding withdrawn are: Coin Street, Heathbrook, Lark Hall, Weir Link and Cherry Tree.

Together Coin Street and Cherry Tree children’s centres provide around 150 childcare places.

The council says it will work with schools and communities to ensure that no building closes and that as many services as possible continue there, such as ‘free’ childcare for eligible two-year-olds and three- and four-year-olds.

In response to feedback via the consultation, the council has decided to keep Sunny Children’s Centre in Streatham open.

Of Lambeth’s 18 remaining children’s centres, 11 will be used as ‘core centres’ and seven as ‘link centres’.

Councillor Jennifer Brathwaite, deputy leader and cabinet member for children and young people at the council, said, ‘This is not a saving we want to make, but one we now have to make. The council’s proposals will ensure that Lambeth retains 18 children’s centres, the third most in London, and will ensure the borough continues to have a comprehensive early years’ service for our residents.’

Parents whose children attend the Cherry Tree Children’s Centre and Nursery in West Norwood have come together to fight the council’s decision, including staging protests outside Lambeth Town Hall.

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Hayley Kowal (pictured left), a member of the group, said that the closure of the setting could leave 67 children without a childcare place. She told Nursery World that the council has advised that they move their children to Rosendale Children’s Centre, but it is a mile away and there is no guarantee there will be enough places.

London

The move by Lambeth to close some of its children’s centres comes after research found nearly one-in-three centres have shut in London since 2010.

The figures obtained by ITV News London show a decrease of at least 29 per cent in the number of children’s centres operating in the capital.

They also reveal the local authorities currently consulting on children centre closures: Brent, Ealing, Havering, Redbridge and Wandsworth.

Countrywide

Children’s centres in other parts of the country are also at risk of closure.

Wiltshire County Council, which consulted on proposals to close six children’s centres, is due to make a decision on Tuesday (30 April).

The council wants to close its ‘underused’ centres and run services from community spaces such as halls, libraries, campuses and leisure centres.

Children’s centres in Suffolk could also shut.

Just over a fortnight ago, opposition councillors pulled out of a cross-party task force set-up to review the way the children’s centres work, claiming they cannot support the ‘underhand’ attempts to push through cuts. They suggest that as many as half of the county’s 38 centres could close.

However, Suffolk County Council has stressed that no decision has been made.

In a joint statement, councillor Sarah Adams, leader of the Labour Group, and councillor Andrew Stringer, leader of the Liberal Democrat, Green & Independent Group, said, ‘We have tried to engage with the Family Services Policy Development Panel (PDP), but it has become increasingly apparent that there is little in the way of policy development - rather than improving family services, the focus is now solely on closing children’s centres.

‘Both of our groups value the services delivered by children’s centres and believe that these services should be expanded, not contracted. We wholeheartedly believe that more outreach services should be provided, but with only a few weeks to go before the report is due to be published, nothing has been provided other than a list of centres that will be culled.

‘We cannot simply stand by and be complicit in this action. Therefore, we will be withdrawing our representatives from the Family Services PDP with immediate effect.

‘If the Conservatives wish to close children’s centres, it will not be in our name.’

A spokesperson for Suffolk County Council said, ‘The role of the Policy Development Panel is to collate and review a range of evidence and information. The panel is still receiving and working through the evidence at this stage before scenarios are developed.

‘A number of service provision options are still in discussion before the PDP puts its proposal to the council’s cabinet in June. At this point any speculation on what this proposal may look like is completely unfounded.’

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