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Mothers fears over future of Suffolk's children's centres

PUBLISHED: 15:59 12 April 2019 | UPDATED: 16:04 12 April 2019

Mother Kate Hepworth says the children's service have benefitted her and her newborn Edith. Picture: KATE HEPWORTH

Mother Kate Hepworth says the children's service have benefitted her and her newborn Edith. Picture: KATE HEPWORTH

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Mothers are voicing their fears at the possibility of losing children's centres in Suffolk which they rely on for vital support.

Mother Kate Hepworth and her 11 month daughter Edith Hepworth. Picture: KATE HEPWORTHMother Kate Hepworth and her 11 month daughter Edith Hepworth. Picture: KATE HEPWORTH

They are speaking out after it was revealed that a review by Suffolk County Council could see as many as half of the 38 children’s centres close as part of a shake-up to the family services on offer.

A council spokesman said: “We see this as an opportunity to develop a new family service offer and ensure any potential model of delivery provides co-ordinated support for children in need and their families.”

Kate Hepworth, mother to 11-month-old Edith, has been using four different centres for support and says she will be deeply saddened if any were to go.

Edith Hepworth, aged 11 months, has visited a number of children's services with her mother. Picture: KATE HEPWORTHEdith Hepworth, aged 11 months, has visited a number of children's services with her mother. Picture: KATE HEPWORTH

She said: “Sadly postpartum support isn’t always great so if these centres are no longer available then it will be to the detriment of people’s mental, physical and emotional wellbeing.

“The centres are a vital asset to the communities and have made a huge difference to me as a new mum. I am quite a confident person but not all new mums are and having somewhere safe to visit where you can meet other people in similar situations is essential.”

Kate, who lives in Bramford, has benefitted from antenatal classes at centres including The Willows, Hawthorn Drive, Cherry Blossom and the various centres around Hadleigh and Capel St Mary.

The Hepworth family have benefitted from the children's services over the years. Picture: KATE HEPWORTHThe Hepworth family have benefitted from the children's services over the years. Picture: KATE HEPWORTH

“These classes gave me a chance to meet other people and find out what was available once my daughter arrived,” the 35-year-old said.

After Edith was born Kate began to use the centres for breastfeeding support but says that they also gave her the opportunity to meet other mothers.

Paige Giles, who also makes use of the children’s centres in Ipswich including Treehouse in Ravenswood and The Willows, is worried about the impact any closures would have on parents with children who are autistic, like her son Xander.

Paige Giles says her mental health has improved since attending regular sessions at children's centres with her son xander. Picture: PAIGE GILESPaige Giles says her mental health has improved since attending regular sessions at children's centres with her son xander. Picture: PAIGE GILES

She said: “As a parent of an autistic child, I feel like the group is my safe haven and my chance to have a breather.

“I can discuss my troubles and not feel judged or frowned upon, because everyone else has gone through it.”

Paige, who lives in Ipswich with her one-year-old son Xander, started attending the group eight years ago and is still friends with the mums she met during her first session.

Xander Giles in the gardens of Treehouse children's centre in Ravenswood. Picture: PAIGE GILESXander Giles in the gardens of Treehouse children's centre in Ravenswood. Picture: PAIGE GILES

She used the centres for hypnobirthing classes, parenting courses and even a monthly group where parents can go to meet and discuss life with a child with autism.

Since attending the classes Paige has noticed a huge improvement in her mental health after suffering with anxiety and postnatal depression.

She said: “The centres do so much for me, they are a real network of hope and friendship.”

Sarah Coad has been taking her daughter Amber to children's centres since she was a month old. Picture: SARAH COADSarah Coad has been taking her daughter Amber to children's centres since she was a month old. Picture: SARAH COAD

Sarah Coad has also recently become a mother for the first time and has been taking her daughter Amber along to the centres since she was just four weeks old.

Sarah says that she would have been lost without the help and support of Chatterbox Children’s Centre and Wooden House.

She said: “When Amber was born knowing that I had a class just down the road to look forward to helped me to get through the days.

Amber Coad enjoyed a number of visits to The Wooden House Chidlren's Centre in Ipswich. Picture: SARAH COADAmber Coad enjoyed a number of visits to The Wooden House Chidlren's Centre in Ipswich. Picture: SARAH COAD

“The staff are always so friendly and full of advice and having them so close by has been a great help knowing I don’t have to worry.”

Like many, Sarah is devastated by the potential closures but says she would be happy to pay if it meant she could still attend the groups.

She continued: “It’s great that the classes are all free but I would be happy to pay if it helped keep the centres from closing.”

What happens next?

Suffolk County Council has confirmed a review is taking place and that full recommendations will be prepared for the cabinet meeting on May 21.

A council spokesman said: “We see this as an opportunity to develop a new family service offer and ensure any potential model of delivery provides co-ordinated support for children in need and their families.

“Therefore, a review of the current children’s centre offer is required.

“This is to ensure that we can meet the aspirations of a true family model whilst maintaining a relevant presence and offer to meet the needs of vulnerable families across Suffolk.”

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