83% of children’s centre staff oppose restructure, survey claims
PUBLISHED: 06:30 11 June 2020
Concerns have been raised regarding proposed plans to restructure children’s services in Suffolk after a survey found 83% of staff are in opposition.
The survey of 40 staff, carried out by union UNISON, found more than four fifths of those surveyed believe the proposals would make things harder on families – particularly on the vulnerable and the poor.
Should plans go ahead, the Caterpillar and Chatterbox centres in Woodbridge and Ipswich would close – while seven would become nurseries and 11 would be reduced to part-time hours. Sixteen of the 38 would remain open full-time.
In their place, so-called family hubs – some mobile – would provide similar services such as post-natal support to children aged 0-19, instead of the current 0-5.
Those opposed to the plans – including the Labour Party – fear the council is “hell bent” on “rushing” the plans and believe coronavirus will put even greater demand on centres through increases in poverty.
Mary Evans, Suffolk County Council cabinet member for education, said she was disappointed by the findings – but stressed family hubs are fully supported by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner.
An earlier Suffolk County Council survey found 35% of 950 people surveyed, including staff and parents, are against the proposals.
UNISON Eastern regional organiser Winston Dorsett said staff have been “crystal clear” in their opposition.
He added: “The real experts about Suffolk’s children’s services are the staff who deliver them day in and day out.
“If these cuts go ahead, parents in vast swathes of the county will be left without access to the vital services that centres provide.
“Suffolk County Council must listen to its staff and pause this hollowing out of our children’s services.”
Jack Abbott, Labour spokesman for children’s services at the council, said there is “no evidence” the proposals would ensure the same quality of service.
He added: “The Tories must do the right thing, listen to people who know what they are talking about, and shelve any plans to cut Suffolk’s children’s centres.”
Mrs Evans added: “I’m disappointed they are making comments now about a cabinet paper that hasn’t yet been seen.
“We want to extend our support services, particularly in rural areas where it is hard for people to get into towns.
“We have not done a survey on lockdown as it is ongoing, but we know how we are responding and want to build on and develop on what we have learned to help supply better services.”
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