Final decision made on Suffolk children’s centres - these are the changes that will be made
- Credit: Charlotte Bond
Radical changes to children’s centres provision in Suffolk have been given the final approval after more than a year in the pipeline.
Suffolk County Council’s cabinet gave the green light to close two centres – Caterpillar Children’s Centre in Woodbridge and Chatterbox in Ipswich – as well as hand eight centres back to schools or nurseries they are attached to, and turn 11 into part-time hubs. Seventeen will remain open full-time.
MORE: Children’s centre decision delayed after error found in reportThe changes aim to offer more outreach services to help those in hard-to-reach rural areas and cater for 0-19 year olds instead of the current 0-5 offering.
The new model, called family hubs, should save around £435,000 in building costs which will be pumped into staffing, helping recruit 12 outreach workers.
It is also set to include evening and weekend sessions.
Conservative cabinet member for children’s services and education, Mary Evans, said: “Family hubs are the natural evolution of the work of our children’s centres.
“Buildings do not serve communities, it is people who do that and it is our health and children’s centre staff who make the impact, not the building where they are based.”
Mrs Evans said there would be no redundancies, and savings made from buildings would be re-invested in the service, and added that it will have a “long-lasting benefit for the families of Suffolk”.
The family hubs model is one which has been used elsewhere in the country and is backed by the children’s commissioner, but the Suffolk changes do not have the support of the British Association of Social Workers.
The proposals were first unveiled in April last year as part of work by a task group, but have evolved since then to focus less on saving money.
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The decision was due to be made last month but was delayed at zero-hour when errors over footfall data were found in the reports.
But Labour group spokesman for children’s services questioned whether errors remained as some of the data expected to be updated as a result of initial errors had not been changed.
He continued that the buildings are “incredible refuges for people” and added: “The ‘evidence’ backing their proposals is non-existent. They have ignored the pleas of families, children’s centre staff and social workers who have all said that these plans simply do not stack up.”
Changes will be introduced on a site-by-site basis, with dates set to be announced in due course.
Chatterbox is to close because it is a small site with limited parking and cannot be used outside working hours, while Caterpillar was a high cost building with no parking.
Penny Otton from the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group said that while there was no objection to the family hub model itself, there were questions over the closures, adding there were “still serious flaws with the data used to justify these cuts” and was “clearly not an evidence-based decision”.
Neil Bland from UNISON described it as a “sad day for many Suffolk families”.