Big revamp planned for Suffolk’s children’s centres – here’s what you need to know

Chatterbox children's centre in Ipswich is one of two earmarked for closure if plans going out for

Chatterbox children's centre in Ipswich is one of two earmarked for closure if plans going out for public consultation go ahead. Picture: LUCY TAYLOR

Plans for a major overhaul of children’s and family services in Suffolk – which could save up to £1million – are set to be presented for public feedback.

Councillor Gordon Jones said it was about living within the council's means while delivering the bes

Councillor Gordon Jones said it was about living within the council's means while delivering the best service possible. Picture: SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL - Credit: Archant

Suffolk County Council's cabinet will next week agree to present changes to children's centres for a public consultation, likely to start in September.

It proposes to change the service, which currently caters for ages 0-5, to encompass 0-19 year olds.

There are currently 38 centres but the new changes will be:

- 16 full-time 'family hubs' which will essentially operate as traditional children's centres

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- 9 part time hubs

- 2 centres will close entirely - Chatterbox in Ipswich and Caterpillar in Woodbridge

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- 11 will cease to be children's centres and instead be revamped to become either special educational needs facilities or nurseries

Work carried out by a policy development panel task group identified that up to £1m in savings could be made. Children's centres offer advice, support and information for parents and families, as well as running group sessions, health checks, midwifery services and play groups.

Conservative councillor Gordon Jones, cabinet member for education and children's services, said it was about "living within our means while trying to deliver the best possible service".

He said: "It's about having a service which reflects the needs of today, changes in social media and the way we communicate.

"Buildings don't deliver services, it's the people who do. It's really to target those families who really need our services, and trying to get early intervention because we all know the sooner you address a problem the better the outcomes.

"We are all reluctant to change - that's human nature, and this is no different.

"There has been a tremendous amount of work by the PDP talking to providers, visiting the sites. I think we have the issues well covered, but we will listen and we will take appropriate action."

The findings on the consultation are expected to be presented from January next year.

Other changes include plans for more outreach workers or sessions - particularly in areas which will lose their centre - with at least 55 venues to hold sessions.

A text, phone and email help service is also being established to help parents access information when they need it.

It has not yet been made clear how many SEND or nursery places the re-purposed buildings will create, although Mr Jones said it would be addressing areas where there were already waiting lists.

Education chiefs were also unable to say whether there would be redundancies or whether all staff could be redeployed.

The Chatterbox centre in Ipswich is run out of a council-owned building, meaning that will be sold if plans go ahead.

The Caterpillar facility in Woodbridge however is leased. Jack Abbott, Labour education spokesman at SCC, said: "I am not surprised, but I am absolutely furious.

"These children's centres are a vital lifeline for families, yet the Conservatives at Suffolk County Council are happy to close the remaining number of full-time children's centres by more than half.

"They should be ashamed that, once again, they are proposing a policy that will hurt young families and negatively impact the outcomes of children.

"We warned this would happen just a few months ago, but Tories said that any stories of impending children's centre cuts were 'unfounded', but we all now know the truth.

"They have utterly eroded any remaining trust in their party and I hope that the backbench Conservatives who are shifting uncomfortably in their seats will now make a stand, put their residents before their party and say; 'enough is enough'."

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