Consultation launched on plans to close 27 children’s centres in Essex

Essex County Hall.

Essex County Hall. - Credit: Lucy taylor

UP to 27 children’s centres across Essex could be closed under proposals from County Hall.

Essex County Council is reviewing the way its centres work as part of a wider review of children’s services – looking to bring five programmes together and join-up services for children from 0-19.

Two year’s ago the centres moved to a hub and delivery site model, a move which saw some centres closed and opening hours slashed at others in a bid to match up the service with demand – and which delivered £2.3million in savings. Currently there are 37 main sites and 38 delivery sites in Essex.

Now the authority wants to provide one “family hub” in each district supported by a handful of delivery sites and additional outreach services hosted in libraries or other public venues. It is proposing 12 hubs, 17 delivery sites and 19 outreach sites across the county.

The proposed changes, if approved after a public consultation, will see four sites in Tendring, six in Colchester and five in Braintree district close.

Harwich, Brightlingsea, Jaywick and Sible Hedingham will be particularly affected as people using services there will have to travel to the next town for anything other than outreach sessions, while people in west Colchester and Stanway will have to travel to the other side of town.

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Children’s centres run a range of services for children aged up to five and their families, including play sessions and baby clubs, family support and outreach work and access to specialist services such as speech and language therapy, breastfeeding support and ante and post-natal classes.

Some of the centres being closed could be turned into additional childcare facilities, available to private providers, in a bid to tackle a shortage of early years’ provision in the county.

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But Julie Young, Labour group leader at Essex County Council, said childcare, while important and in high demand, was not what children’s centres were about.

“This is despicable. This is about giving children the best start in life.

“We were aghast two years’ ago when people were going to have to travel five miles. Now we calculate it could be a 33 mile round trip in some cases.

“Essex had quite high children in care costs which have come down considerably, and they are arguing it was because of early intervention – which is now facing further cuts. Just six days before they launched this the budget papers proudly stated there were 75 children’s centres.

“It is an outrage.

“Some of these sites are part of community spaces, and organisations running them face a loss of income.

“I can understand you need to focus on meeting the needs of the most vulnerable. But to cut services in Jaywick, Harwich – these people will not ring up for an outreach service or say ‘I need a social worker’.”

Dick Madden, county councillor for adults and children, said: “This is a consultation and no decisions have been made. I want feedback.

“It is about providing the right advice and support to the right people in the right place.

“Families find all the different areas and services not joined up and very complicated.

“Staff say they are fixed to opening the centres in case someone comes, when they could be out helping people who cannot get to those centres, or who don’t think it is for them. What we need is a service without walls.”

He added the proposals had been drawn up using data about current users and feedback from providers.

Any re-designed service would begin with new provider contracts from April 2017.

Have your say:

The consultation on the proposed changes runs until April 10.

People can view the full plans and comment at the Essex Insight web site.There are also the following drop-in sessions:

• March 9, 6.30-8.30pm – Carousel Children’s Centre, Chapel Hill, Braintree

• March 11, 9.30-11.30am – Berechurch Children’s Centre, The Ormiston Centre, School Road, Colchester

• March 22, 6.30-8.30pm – Clacton Library, Station Road, Clacton

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