Final list of Suffolk children’s centre changes unveiled ahead of decision next week

The Caterpillar children's centre in Woodbridge is one of two that will close entirely, if Suffolk C

The Caterpillar children's centre in Woodbridge is one of two that will close entirely, if Suffolk County Council's cabinet agrees the family hubs changes next week. Picture: GOOGLE MAPS - Credit: Archant

A final decision on a shake-up of children’s centres in Suffolk is set to be made next week – with one more centre remaining open full time than planned.

Suffolk County Council's Conservative cabinet member for children's services, Mary Evans, said the n

Suffolk County Council's Conservative cabinet member for children's services, Mary Evans, said the new family hubs model would provide more outreach services. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Final proposals published today ahead of the Suffolk County Council cabinet meeting on July 14 revealed that 17 centres will remain open full time, 11 will be open part time, eight will be “re-purposed” as either nursery or school provision and two would close entirely.

According to council chiefs, the new “family hubs” model will mean significantly more outreach work in the community which can help get to families in the hardest to reach areas, and will be able to cater for 0-19 year olds instead of the current 0-5 provision.

MORE: Only one third against children’s centres changes, says county councilSince the consultation, which ran earlier this year, the key changes include the Foley centre in Newmarket remaining open full time instead of part time as originally planned, while Village Rise in Lowestoft will remain open part-time instead of being re-purposed for nursery provision.

Conservative cabinet member for children’s services, Mary Evans, said: “We want to get that support into areas we are not currently reaching.

Councillor Jack Abbott opposition spokesman on children's services at Suffolk County Council's Labou

Councillor Jack Abbott opposition spokesman on children's services at Suffolk County Council's Labour group, has warned of the detrimental impact of the changes to children's centres. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

“Very effective family support work can transform the lives of families and particularly the young children, and that is what I am most passionate about. To me this is an amazing opportunity that has come up at a really important time to make a big difference to families who need us in Suffolk.

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“Children’s centres work with children aged 0-5. Nobody can possibly say in this day and age that they think managing the family ends when your child goes to school.

“A really significant part of this project is that the money we save by reducing spending on buildings is going to go into hiring more staff to work with some of our most vulnerable adults and families. I would rather spend money on people working with people than buildings.

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“It’s being more reflective of the world we live in.

“People are passionate about children’s centres and I hope in time people will be equally as passionate about their family hub.”

The changes are expected to save around £435,000, which Mrs Evans said would be pumped back into the service and recruit 12 new outreach workers.

The plans will mean that two centres close entirely – Chatterbox in Ipswich and Caterpillar in Woodbridge. Chatterbox was in a small former caretaker’s house with no disabled access, while Caterpillar was a high-cost lease.

MORE: Original children’s centres proposals in 2019The public consultation earlier this year attracted around 940 responses, with 34% stating they did not support the proposals compared to 41% who did show support.

A further 19% said they were neither supportive for or against the plans.

While a final decision will be made by the council’s cabinet next week, the timeline for when those will be implemented is not yet clear as it will be dependent on the individual leases of the buildings and the recruitment time for new outreach workers.

But the opposition Labour group has continued to campaign against the changes.

Councillor Jack Abbott, children’s services spokesman with the group said: “These plans will hollow out Suffolk’s children’s centre provision and weaken family services - that the Tories are trying to push this through during a global pandemic is really beyond the pale.

“While we are pleased we have managed to save Foley House in Newmarket, and prevented the total closure of Village Rise in Lowestoft, the impact of making cuts to 21 of Suffolk’s remaining 38 children’s centres will be profound.

“The Tories present this as an either/or choice, that they have to make brutal cuts to 21 children’s centres in order to afford 12 extra staff and some additional outreach space.

MORE: UNISON raises concerns over children’s centre changes“This is not a direct substitute and the reality is very different – for less than 0.1% of their budget, the Tories at Suffolk County Council could invest in early years and strengthen outreach work in the county whilst retaining proven, successful and life changing provision.

“Sadly, we have an administration who would prefer to waste millions of pounds on failed infrastructure projects than properly commit to improving the life chances of children and families in Suffolk.”

Winston Dorsett from UNISON said: “These minor changes won’t stop huge damage being done to Suffolk’s children and families.”

Penny Otton from the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group said: “Any closures of children’s centres in Suffolk would be so harmful to families across our county, especially in light of coronavirus which has left many more families extremely vulnerable and in need of support. With the prospect of more people becoming unemployed, the support from children’s centres will be critical.

“We are concerned that the part time family hubs with some outreach support will leave many families unable to make use of the help and advice currently on offer. The use of libraries is also problematic and cannot guarantee private accommodation for families, including breast feeding mothers.

“It shouldn’t be an either/or choice between nurseries and children’s centres. Both are vital services that Suffolk County Council should be providing. Failing to invest in early support and closing children’s centres will cause irreparable harm in the long-term.”

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