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Many children's centres 'under threat of closure'

14 January 11 03:02
Child in a nursery
By Hannah Richardson
BBC News education reporter

Every council in England is likely to have to close at least one Sure Start Children's Centre because of funding cuts, it is claimed.

Many more are earmarked for closure in some areas, say organisations working in the 3,500 centres.

The government wants to target the centre's parenting support services at the most deprived children.

A spokesman said there was enough money in the system to maintain the present network of children's centres.

However, in Stoke-on-Trent, seven out of 16 children's centres are threatened with closure as the council attempts to save £12.6m from its children's services budget.

Hammersmith and Fulham Council is in the process of "totally reshaping" its children's centres, cutting £3.2m from children's services budgets and reviewing services it offers at each centre.

It is also planning to merge its children's services with two neighbouring boroughs to save money. One of which, Westminster, is having to save £5.4m from its children's services budget.

In Oxfordshire, three children's centres that were to be built are not now going ahead. But the council says services from two of the children's centres will be offered elsewhere.

Norfolk County Council is planning to "reconfigure" its network of children's centres, some of its rural centres are likely to merge or work more closely together.

And Kirklees Council is looking at revised models of working for its children's centres, alongside other council services

Parents in North Devon were campaigning before Christmas to prevent cuts to the area's children's centres.

Megan Pacey, chief executive of the representative body for state-sector nurseries, Early Education, said the situation in the areas where cuts were planned was unlikely to be exceptional.

"I would be very surprised at the end of all this, if there are any local authorities in England who have not had to close at least one of their children's centres," she said.

'Excellent services'

"All local authorities in England are facing substantial cuts and the removal of the Sure Start Children's Centres funding ring fence means that services that support the youngest children and their families are being hit the hardest.

"It is worrying that many town halls across England this will become a discussion about whether to cut children's centres or other services such as those that support the elderly, disabled or those otherwise in need and their families."

She added that cost effective and creative ways could be found to preserve the "excellent" services to be found in children's centre.

Maureen Nuttall, strategic development manager for supporting families at charity Action For Children, said the prediction that at least one would close in every area was a conservative one.

She said it was clear councils would have to look at their children's centre provision because of the scale of cuts to their central government funding.

She said Action For Children was already working with local authorities on restructuring the 150 centres it runs.

"We are trying to work in a way that causes the least disruption to children and families using the services," she said.

"There are opportunities for looking at better value for money, and even co-location in public venues such as libraries.

"But it may well result in closures which mean that there's nowhere for some people to go because the one around the corner closes."

'Words unravel'

Although the Department for Education protected Sure Start funding in cash-terms, it has reduced funding for family support services overall by 11%, directing it through a new Early Intervention Grant.

In a letter to local authorities following the December local government settlement, Education Secretary Michael Gove reminded them of their duties under the Childcare Act 2006 "to consult before opening, closing or significantly changing children's centres".

A Department for Education spokesman said: "We have ensured there is enough money in the system to maintain the network of Sure Start children's centres, as well as provided new investment for health visitors."

She added: "Local authorities continue to have duties to make sure there is sufficient children's centre provision to meet local need. It is for them to decide where best to target investment.

"Support is available until March through Together for Children, to assist local authorities in making plans to keep centres open."

Shadow children's minister Sharon Hodgson said she had expected the government to stick to their word and ensure the centres did not close.

"Faced with these cuts, it's inevitable that many councils will have to make tough choices on children's centres, almost certainly meaning closures, which will deprive untold thousands of children and their families of much-valued services.

"All ministers can do is shrug their shoulders while their warm words unravel, but I hope that communities faced with these cuts will come together to make their disgust heard."

Your reaction to the story and comments on planned closures and cuts:

Services for Children, Young people and early years services are being targeted for cuts when vanity projects such as council office refurbishments, newspapers and increased members allowances are being allowed to stand. Surely this is wrong and needs to be addressed. In LBTH we now have an elected mayor which costs an additional £150,000 a year, but we are likely to lose 3 or 4 SureStart Centres. So much for investing in the future of the country

K Davies, Tower Hamlets, London

Early intervention pays dividends. Closing these important centres will only cause further costs later on, in education the CJS and Social Services. Save the money now!

Joan, Scunthorpe

Although we haven't yet heard of any cuts in this area everyone is anticipating them. The local SureStart centres are absolutely irreplaceable. I have 2 children under the age of 3 and SureStart has enriched their lives so much. They have opportunities to play, sing and learn, mixing with other children and adults that I would not otherwise be able to give them. They also give me as a parent advice and support. Anyone making decisions that might involve cuts to the SureStart network please think carefully about the harm you may do to children and families, especially on low incomes. Any parents affected please fight to keep your local children's centres!

Marie, Torquay

Close them all. They are a waste of time and money. That is coming from a young single mum who should be using such a service. Problem is, they do not provide anything!

Faye, Ripon

If it wasn't for my local childrens center my son would sill be struggling as he is now diagnosed as autistic. The last 2 years have proved vital working with surestart to get the relevent departments to listen! Its not just a play area for young children but more a cab for the young! Childrens educational needs will suffer and maybe, so could their health! The councils should lighten their budget elsewhere, maybe their wages or not buying new office equipment when its not needed as to not affect the future of our children!

Lucy, Worcestershire

Warrington Borough Council has already decided to close its only Sure Start Centre in the Borough affecting 70 families. This service has been open for only 5 years and has a reputation of being the best nursery in Warrington. It odes not appear that the Council have tried to save it in any way it is an easy win in terms of saving money.

Joanne, Cookson

I very much doubt the Government wants to keep SureStart in the poorer areas. My partner teaches Creative Dance in Bermondsey and Wood Green -two areas in London which are not precisely known for being affluent- and her contracts will end in March. No activities for children -not one- will survive. Will the SureStart centres be ghost centres, or simply will close?

Jose, London

My Daughter is currently at her local children's centre. I find that this was the best option for my family due the additional services that are offered on sight.

Gemma, Wolverhampton

The children centre was my saviour, i was stuck at home with 4 kids under 5, if it wasnt for the wonderful help and support of the children centre i dont know what i would of done, i think it is absolutley awful what the goverment has done, the centre's do such an important job

Daphne, Stamford, Lincs

Yet again the actions of the banks and the reaction of this government directly impact on children. Tution fees, libraries, free swimming,the job losses of their parents Now sure start. Something that really works and benifits families across the social spectrum.These families will produce our future doctors nurses teachers ,social workers, hairdressers and mechanics if given the support. Sure Start in Gloucester brought children's centers to areas with out any pre school provision. I was able to use a weekly Sure Start drop in session after the birth of my third child and it provided support and friendship in my local area.

Kath, Gloucester

Please dont cut this vital resource. The benefits Surestart brings to childrens lives and therefore the future of society, which affects us all, is immeasurable in scale. I have first hand seen the commitment and dedication of the workers and witnessed the positive impact on family which saves many thousands probably millions over time, in maintaining and educating families so their children do not go into the care system which is a tradegedy for all concerned. There must be SOMETHING that can be cut other than this invaluable service which is probably one of the best and positive government initiatives for decades.

Social work student, Chepstow

My local Children's Centre saved my life, of that I have no doubt. I suffered with post-natal depression and since I had just moved to the area and worked full-time during my pregnancy, I had no time to make new friends. I was depressed and alone quite often for days as my partner was out of the country frequently. The Children's Centre provided me with somewhere to go, and trained staff who kept me going and helped me through my depression. The staff were helpful and friendly but more than that, they were there in the first place! I cannot imagine how my life might have ended up if the centre wasn't there for me and so many other women I met and befriended who were in the same predicament. They gave me hope that I would get better and I would be a good Mum. Other Mummy and baby groups do not provide the same level of professionalism and training. Now I am back at work and the same Children's centre provides affordable childcare to a higher standard than any other nursery I looked at. Closing these centres would be a tragedy.

Julie, Guildford

The danger of closing children's centres and spending less and less money on providing parents with support is that it is inevitable that we will end up with another Baby P case. No one is monitoring the welfare of thousands of children if there are no longer health clinics. Instead of speaking to a health visitor about our children we have to use the GP's for developmental checks and routine questions, and we all know how easy it is to get an appointment with a GP what lasts for more than 2 minutes these days.

Mary, Halifax

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