Jane Basham's Children's Centre Consultation submission

As you know I am Labour’s Parliamentary Candidate for South Suffolk. But I am also a resident of Hadleigh and have lived in Glemsford. My grandson has regularly accessed Brett River Children’s Centre for health and development activities.

 

I have spent several months now speaking with mothers, fathers, carers and children who use the Children’s Centres at Brett River Hadleigh and Woodlands Glemsford. I am not going to rehearse the history behind the Children’s Centre model, nor refer to current papers, statistical data and research. What I am going to try and do is capture for you the hundreds of conversations I have had.

 

There is rhetoric from the Council that seeks to define Children’s Centres as buildings and distinct from Children’s Services. The comments and information in this document demonstrates that the two are inextricably linked and not able to be separated.

 

1. The Centres in Hadleigh and Glemsford are magnets for people from outlying villages. I have met people from Long Melford, Stansted and Cavendish who use Woodlands and people from Layham, Whatfield and Bildeston who use Brett River. There will of course be other villages I have not mentioned.

 

2. One of the strongest messages is how vital these centres are to rural communities. Perhaps this is why almost 1,000 people have taken the time to sign a petition against the closures.

 

3. People have described to me their Children’s Centre as a place where they have made ‘life- long friends’ People have also said that they don’t know where they would be now if it had not been for the Children’s Centre.

 

4. The support for the Centres is overwhelming as is the outrage that the Council could even consider closing them, particularly in rural areas where access to services is becoming increasingly difficult. 

"They aren’t seriously expecting me to get to Sudbury? I don’t drive. I have 2 children and one child is in nursery. If I did need to access the Children’s Centre for my baby I couldn’t afford the £5 bus fare and even if I could – the buses only run every 2 hours so  I wouldn’t be able to get there and back in time to collect my child from nursery"

Mum Glemsford

 

5. It is 9 miles from Woodlands to the Phoenix Centre in Sudbury, with no footpath. It is 6 miles from Brett River to Cherry Blossom in East Bergholt with no footpath.

 

6. Children’s Centres as well as providing universal services, free at the point of need, also protect those children and families made vulnerable for a range of reasons. Each centre collects data on specific groups (teenage parents, lone parents etc) Deprivation is a known possible risk factor. This is one of the reasons why Children’s Centres were placed in Hadleigh (particularly Hadleigh North) and Glemsford. 

 

7. Children’s Centres were created because of identified need. There is no evidence or data in the consultation documents to demonstrate what has changed or whether the need is no longer there.

 

8. In July when Councillors were asked to vote at full Council meeting either for or against the Children’s Centre consultation some basic data was provided on budgets, usage and costs. It is interesting that this data showed that Woodlands and Brett River were not the most expensive centres to run. 

 

9. A partial Freedom of Information Act (FOI) disclosure (Ref 8336) shows good and increasing access at both Woodlands and Brett River by families across specific ‘groups’ as mentioned in paragraph 6. This is significant in the light of the disproportionate budget cuts Woodlands and Brett River have been subject to. 

 

10. This good news regarding the efficiency and performance of Woodlands and Brett River is mysteriously not being made very public. 

 

11. In public meetings in both Glemsford and Hadleigh people are being told the centres are failing to reach children and families and are poorly attended. People are being told that Centres have failed Ofsted inspections. People are being told that the buildings are not fit for purpose. People are being told that those who can afford to pay are accessing free services and why should they. People are being told that there have been no reduction in services

 

"I don’t go there much anymore and miss it. I went there lots with my first daughter who is now 4. There used to be loads of activities and groups there, but I have noticed, especially this last year fewer and fewer things going on there for my younger child, especially during school holidays and especially for the older toddler."

Mum Hadleigh

 

12. Unsubstantiated largely negative public messages, along with a poorly worded and leading consultation document, appear to be designed to seal the fate of Children’s Centres. 
13. The parents and carers that I have met all speak with sound local knowledge of the growing demand of families in need of the services.Indeed I’ve met many growing families. However there is no data regarding past and predicted population numbers in each area in the consultation.

 

14. If some of the centres have received a poor Ofsted, then what is needed is effective supervision and performance management. Perhaps the huge staff cuts within Children’s Services at the Council means this type of support cannot be provided.

 

15. People told me that they feel the Centres have moved away from the Monday to Friday 9 to 5 opening that is so important to them. Some have talked about the wider impact of the cuts that have already taken place. A child-minding group used to be supported with room hire by the Children’s Centre. This support has now stopped and some child minders told me they felt important links with professionals at the Centres are being eroded.

 "I don’t blame the staff but there seems to have been a continuous reorganisation and we have seen many changes in staff and more recently staff leaving and not being replaced. Our Centre has started to be closed more frequently which is starting to stop people coming. We use it for getting help with form filling, ringing up with benefit or housing queries, applying for jobs and courses. The village hall and library are only open a few times a week. Where else can we go? "

Mum Glemsford

 
16. Many people feel the range of ‘support’ their centre offers them will not be catered for by the focus in the consultation, on ‘activities’ and ‘support in the home’. Some have spoken with me how ‘home’ is sometimes the problem. Some mothers for example have described their mental ill health or that of their children and the vital support of the range of professionals they can discreetly access in the Children’s Centre. Others have come to Hadleigh or Glemsford having fled violent partners and have said that services provided in the home would not work in these situations.

 

"I have a daughter who has self-harmed, ran away from home, and threatened suicide. I live in Hadleigh. I had to fight to get a CAMHS referrals through due to the cuts that had happened. There were days that despite my profession and experience I was unable to know what to do and I needed help or a place to go to offer me help for my troubled daughter. I am not alone in this. Every day there are more and more young people and children who are suffering anxiety, mental distress, surviving traumas and families at breaking point due to no help being there. For me once I got through the CAMHS system I had the wonderful opportunity to work with youth workers at the Brett River site. I am not going to pretend that I know what this site offers to everyone or how much it costs, but what I do know is there was a place for my daughter to go and meet her workers. There was a glimmer of hope."

 

"I don’t go there much anymore and miss it. I went there lots with my first daughter who is now 4. There used to be loads of activities and groups there, but I have noticed, especially this last year fewer and fewer things going on there for my younger child, especially during school holidays and especially for the older toddler."

Mum Hadleigh

 

17. Others have described how having the opportunity to build relationships with staff at the Children’s Centre through activities with their children has helped them access other services. Some of these can be delivered in the home but it is not an ‘either/or’ scenario

 

"Since leaving ******** to flee Domestic Violence I have found the Children’s Centre to be the greatest support to me. I am also bi-polar and need help with things like dealing with my debt. I have ladies from the Centre that visit me and help me and my children. I would be devastated if it was to close and this support unable to continue"

Mum Glemsford

 

18. I have heard how children with emotional and behavioural difficulties access specialist counselling at the centre while their siblings play close by. Other parents and carers have talked about doing courses like the Freedom Programme or Confidence programme in an accessible and discreet room within the Children’s Centre. Although mums in Glemsford tell me these programmes have been reduced and are now only being run in Sudbury and therefore inaccessible to many.

 

19. People are deeply sceptical about attending specialist support groups and courses (like those referenced in paragraph 18) in village halls or local libraries. Some have said that general use buildings that have not been designed with children in mind like the Children’s Centres were will not work. Many cannot believe that the council is planning to close Woodlands – purpose built in 2010 and Brett River specially refurbished a couple of years earlier. 

 

20. It appears that a larger room in Woodlands Children’s Centre is now used by the Playgroup and not available for the Children’s Centre. This has led to activities with higher numbers of children participating, taking place in the village hall. Everyone is deeply grateful that the village hall is welcoming but people tell me it is not the safe, familiar and accessible Children’s Centre.

 

"I use the Children’s Centre in Glemsford every week. I live in Melford and could go to Sudbury. The village hall is nice to use but we end up with headaches from the noise. Please don’t close the Centre. When I was threatened with homelessness the Centre was my first port of call and I got the help I needed."

Mum Long Melford

  
21. The model of a team of professionals in one place is also being put at risk. This is particularly relevant in relation to health. I have been told that there was limited space in GP surgeries for weighing babies and doing ante and post natal checks. Health practitioners have talked about how helpful it has been to meet parents and carers in a Children’s Centre environment.

 

22. In rural areas being able to easily access support during pregnancy outside of the GP surgery is crucial.

 

"Our Children’s Centre is the heart of any new parent’s community. As Glemsford is a growing village it needs the resource. My daughter is now * weeks old and the centre has been there for my whole pregnancy & beyond. It would be devastating for it to disappear before my daughter can use it to its full potential, and so I, as a new member of the community can also meet people in the area."

Mum Glemsford

 
23. There have been discussions in public meetings about merging groups to make them larger and to avoid some groups taking place at the same time. Some people have told me they like to have the choice of attending different groups. They like smaller groups. This is particularly relevant with specialist groups like the Dads group.

 

"It was daunting being the house husband and a dad for the first time. I felt a bit embarrassed. Being able to just mix with other dads and professionals who understood was important."

Dad Hadleigh 

 

 There are three further issues I would like to raise.

 

24. SAFEGUARDING

 

I have seen no input or reference to the Suffolk Local Safeguarding Children’s Board(LSCB) in the consultation. The LSCB, I understand has statutory responsibilities under the Children’s Act 2004 and I would expect it to play a significant role. I am sure you are aware that the definition of safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children is defined in the statutory guidance as:

 

• Protecting children from maltreatment,
• Preventing impairment of children’s health or development,
• Ensuring that children are growing up in circumstances consistent with the
• provision of safe and effective care;
• Undertaking that role so as to enable children to have optimum life chances and enter adulthood successfully
• Promoting a safe environment, free from violence

 

I would like to know what discussions have taken place with Suffolk LSCB in respect of the proposed closures and in particular what assessment of risK? 

25. EQUALITY IMPACT ASSESSMENT

 

I believe a full Equality Impact Assessment should have taken place before this consultation commenced. There should have been full demographic analysis of current and past users of the services. Whilst I have met many men at the school gates, overwhelmingly the users of Children’s Centres are women who are being disproportionately impacted by the cuts to local public services. I have also metmany parents and carers who themselves have mental ill health and/or who are parents and carers of children with disabilities. 

 

Can you please therefore confirm what steps you are taking to undertake a full and meaningful Equality Impact Assessment?

 

26. OUTCOMES

 

You indicated to me this week after the Hadleigh Steering Group that Children’s Centres had not achieved the outcomes hoped for. This consultation is very light on data, evidence and outcomes.

 

Can you please provide specific details of the outcomes to which you referred for Woodlands and Brett River Children’s Centres?

 

27. It is sadly clear that many people feel the consultation process is a ‘done deal’ That this is about selling off buildings first and worrying about children and families second. It would be useful to know how the consultation responses will be analysed and by whom and where this information will be published?

 

28. I would also like to know if in December Councillors will be voting on each Children’s Centre individually or being presented with a ‘block’ proposal.

 

Evidence abounds that a range of interventions, arising from attendance at Children's centres by those families and children in difficulties, have made a tangible difference to their lives and helped them overcome a wide range of problems.

 

From helping facilitate solutions for these often vulnerable groups, Suffolk County Council now seems set to simply add to those problems. 

 

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to comment and I look forward to your response.

 

Yours sincerely

 

 

Jane Basham

 

Jane Basham

Labour’s Parliamentary Candidate

South Suffolk

 

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