Sunday, 20 August 2017

Prospective closures will hit families hard

CHILDREN’S centres may have to be sacrificed to make savings, according to county councillors in Henley and South Oxfordshire.

CHILDREN’S centres may have to be sacrificed to make savings, according to county councillors in Henley and South Oxfordshire.

But they admitted it would be with a “heavy heart” and some believe public pressure could yet sway the decision.

It followed a plea by mother Emma Taylor, who urged the council not to close the centres because they are “vital” to the families who use them.

The Rainbow Children’s Centres, based at the d:two centre in Henley and Chiltern Edge School in Sonning Common, as well as the Chalgrove and Watlington Children’s Centre, are among 44 across Oxfordshire that could be shut because of budget cuts by the county council.

Mrs Taylor, 38, of Western Avenue, Henley, has set up the Save Oxfordshire’s Children’s Centres campaign and co-organised a demonstration in the Market Place last week, in which children and parents sang nursery rhymes.

She spoke during the public forum of a county council meeting on Tuesday (Nov 5), where she said councillors needed to understand the impact their closures would have on families.

Mrs Taylor said the centres were created as a response to child abuse disasters, in particular the torture and murder of eight-year-old Victoria Climbie in 2000.

She said they work with families in a wide range of situations from all backgrounds.

“Vulnerable people cannot be easily defined by their social status or financial earnings - anyone can be affected by domestic abuse whether physical, emotional or financial,” she said.

“Anyone can suffer from mental health issues, including the very common post natal depression. Anyone can lose their job and suffer financial crisis. Anyone can become seriously ill and unable to support their family.”

Mrs Taylor said the centres offer universal assistance from a single, local and accessible point of delivery by qualified professionals, who provide early years intervention.

She added: “If you close children’s centres, you close the door on this intelligent approach which has been proven to work.”

She cited a report on early intervention by MP Graham Allen in 2011, which said the service reaps “massive savings” in public expenditure with a small investment because it avoids expensive provision when things go wrong.

He said it could also help make lasting improvements to children’s lives and eventually remedy persistent social problems.

Mrs Taylor added that the financial impact on removing the services for families would be “catastrophic” in years to come.

“Not only will supporting those who fall through the net be far more expensive in the long run but the psychological impact on these children and families will be incalculable and in some cases devastating,” she said.

The county council has to save £60 million following budget cuts from the Government. This follows savings of £127 million made since 2010 and a further £74 million that must be cut from services over the next few years.

It says it is “likely” to propose the closure of a number of centres but no decision has been made about how many or which.

The council’s budget proposals will be published in December and the cabinet will make its recommendations to the full council for a final decision in February.

Caroline Newton, who represents Chalgrove and Watlington on the county council, acknowledged the public opposition to the threatened closure.

She said: “There’s an awful lot of pressure from some very impassioned people to reduce the cuts to the children’s centres.

“The people who make the decisions are councillors and the pressure of public opinion is very important. Of course we listen to the representations made by members of the public.

“Having said that there’s going to be some big decisions - whether it’s children’s centres or something else, people are going to be saddened by the decisions made in this budget.”

Councillor Newton said she would be “sad” to see the Watlington centre close. It is one of only two centres in the county judged to be “outstanding” by Ofsted following an inspection in June.

She said: “It’s phenomenally good and has an extraordinary reach for its target population as it is in contact with about 80 per cent of the under-fives in the area, which is very impressive.

“I think an awful lot of people here would be very sad if it closed. It’s really fundamental to how we improve the education of children across the county.

“It provides early years education and catches people even before they’re born by helping their parents from pre-birth until the children go to school.

“To close the centres would be to drive a coach and horses through that provision.”

Cllr Newton admitted savings have to be made from somewhere but would like a solution that keeps some centres open.

She said: “It has to come from somewhere and we can’t salami slice anymore. We have to cut services that people find valuable and I would challenge anyone to find a service that would not cause upset if it was lost.

“The question is being more efficient and joining them up with other centres but it’s that universality that makes them such powerful facilities, particularly in rural areas.”

Kevin Bulmer, who represents the Goring ward on the county council, said: “It would be irresponsible to say that everything is sacrosanct because it may be that not all the children’s centres are in the right place and it’s surely right for them to be targeted at the children most in need.

“The budget has to be decided and it may be that when we look at it someone says in actual fact we’ve got two centres somewhere covering the same area or we’ve got a centre in an area that doesn’t really warrant it.

“It would be right and proper at that point to target the ones that are in need.”

Councillor David Nimmo Smith, who represents the Henley ward, said a lot of his colleagues agreed with Mrs Taylor’s points about why the centres should remain open.

He said: “I was sympathetic to what she had to say but at the end of the day it comes down to funding whether she can achieve everything she wants.”

Cllr Nimmo Smith said if the centres escaped cuts then other services, such as for elderly people, may be targeted instead so a balance had to be struck.

“I would like to think that we can meet them halfway,” he said. “We’re looking at ways we can provide all our services in different ways, which means we would cut out some of the fat of the costs but still provide a service in some way.”

Mark Gray, who represents the Benson and Cholsey ward, said he is a “great supporter” of children’s centres but accepts they may have to be sacrificed.

He said he would still rather see the service provided in a permanent community place rather than from a bus that tours villages, which has been suggested by some councillors.

Councillor Gray said: “There’s an awful lot of work going on to try and maximise the children’s centres that are left but they take up a huge proportion of the spend so they will suffer the brunt of the cuts.

“No one at the county council wants to do it but there’s very little discretionary spend at the moment.

“I think we are aware of how people feel about the centres but we’re caught between a rock and a hard place. If there’s no money there to run them they will just have to go.”

David Bartholomew, who represents the Sonning Common ward, said the cuts meant changes would have to be made to services, with some being stopped altogether.

He added: “Every possibility has to be examined. We understand how valued some of these services are and no final decision has been taken about children’s centres.”



ends







A WOMAN campaigning to save children’s centres in Oxfordshire says the impact on families will be “incalculable” if she fails.

Emma Taylor, of Western Avenue, Henley, says the centres are vital to the people who use them.

The Rainbow children’s centres, based at the d:two centre in Henley and Chiltern Edge School in Sonning Common, and the Chalgrove and Watlington children’s centre are among 44 across Oxfordshire that could be shut because of budget cuts by the county council.

Mrs Taylor, 38, has set up the Save Oxfordshire’s Children’s Centres campaign and helped organise a demonstration in Henley Market Place last month.

She spoke during the public forum of a county council meeting, saying councillors needed to understand the impact that closures would have on families.

Mrs Taylor, whose four-year-old daughter Lilia has been going to the Henley centre since it opened in 2010, said the centres were created in response to child abuse tragedies, in particular the torture and murder of eight-year-old Victoria Climbie in London in 2000.

She said they work with families of all types. “Vulnerable people cannot be easily defined by their social status or earnings,” she said.

“Anyone can be affected by domestic abuse whether physical, emotional or financial. Anyone can suffer from mental health issues, including the very common postnatal depression. Anyone can lose their job and suffer financial crisis. Anyone can become seriously ill and unable to support their family.”

Mrs Taylor said the centres offer universal assistance from a single, local and accessible point of delivery by qualified professionals, who provide early years intervention.

She added: “If you close children’s centres, you close the door on this intelligent approach which has been proven to work.”

She cited a 2011 report by MP Graham Allen which said early intervention produced “massive savings” in public expenditure with a small investment.

The MP said it could also help make lasting improvements to children’s lives and eventually remedy persistent social problems.

Mrs Taylor said the financial impact on removing the services for families would be “catastrophic” in years to come.

“Not only will supporting those who fall through the net be far more expensive in the long run but the psychological impact on these children and families will be incalculable and in some cases devastating,” she said.

The county council says it has to save £60 million due to cuts in government funding. This follows savings of £127 million made since 2010 and a further £74 million that must be cut over the next few years. The council says it is “likely” to propose the closure of a number of children’s centres but no decision has been made about how many or which.

The council’s budget proposals will be published in December and the cabinet will make its recommendations to the full council for a final decision in February.

Councillor David Nimmo Smith, who represents Henley on the county council, said he sympathised with Mrs Taylor but added: “At the end of the day it comes down to funding.”

He said if the centres escaped the cuts then other services, such as those for elderly people, may be targeted instead so a balance had to be struck.

“I would like to think that we can meet them halfway,” he said. “We’re looking at ways we can provide all our services in different ways, which means we would cut out some of the fat of the costs but still provide a service in some way.”

Councillor Caroline Newton, who represents Chalgrove and Watlington on the council, said: “There’s an awful lot of pressure from some very impassioned people to reduce the cuts to the children’s centres.

“Of course we listen to the representations made by members of the public.

“Having said that, there’s going to be some big decisions — whether it’s children’s centres or something else, people are going to be saddened by the decisions made in this budget.”

Cllr Newton said she would be “sad” to see the Watlington centre close. It is one of only two centres in the county judged to be “outstanding” by Ofsted following an inspection in June.

She said: “It’s phenomenally good and has an extraordinary reach for its target population as it is in contact with about 80 per cent of the under-fives in the area, which is very impressive.

“It’s really fundamental to how we improve the education of children across the county.”

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