Future of children’s centres in Warwick district looks bleak

GV - Shire Hall, Warwick. NNL-161201-211215009
GV - Shire Hall, Warwick. NNL-161201-211215009

Children’s centres in Warwick district could be replaced by ‘family hubs’ under Warwickshire County Council plans to cover service funding cuts.

The council’s executive has agreed to consult on the future of the centres across the area under it’s ‘redesign of 0-5 services.’

The council’s budget of £4.18 million to support the 39 existing centres was cut by £1.18 million under an agreed overall budget by its leading Conservative and opposition Labour group in February.

Of the 39 children’s centres in Warwickshire, 12 could remain as family or community hubs offering reduced services - a reduction of 27 centres across the county.

Around 40 jobs could be under threat due to this.

Council leader Cllr Izzi Seccombe said: “The proposals being put forward to reshape our services for 0-5 year olds were part of the budget process voted for by council in February.

“We were clear that we are not looking to stop services for children and families. This is an opportunity to look at how we provide the right services throughout Warwickshire that meet the needs of our residents.

“The proposals look at evolving 12 of the 39 centres into family hubs to offer direct targeted support at locations where we have identified the greatest level of need.

“If we do not make change, we are in danger of diluting the offer where the need is greatest.”

Warwick district has eight centres in total with Leamington having four at Lillington, Whitnash, Kingsway and Sydenham, Warwick having two at Newburgh and Westgate and Kenilworth also having two based at St John’s Primary School and in Bertie Road.

County councillor Jonathan Chilvers (Green, Leamington Brunswick) said: “The first two years of a child’s life are important for their chances at school and beyond - all parties say they agree with that.

“And as a parent I know how much I valued the support in those exhausting early days.

“But actions speak louder than words.

“The Conservative central government and local council are cutting funding to these vital services and putting childrens’ long term future at risk.

“We do need to improve the way some support is given, but there’s no hiding that this will take help further away from parents.

“I’d call on everyone affected to make their views heard loud and clear.”

Matt Western, Labour MP for Warwick and Leamington and also a county councillor, said the services the children’s centres offer are essential in helping children move out of poverty and to making communities safer.

He added: “The proposed cuts will mean an end to universal services for families in Warwickshire.

“Families will no longer be able to access services in their local area, and the majority will now have to travel to get basic help.”

Mr Western said families would no longer have access to locally based services such as free advice and information, family support drop-in sessions, stay and play sessions staffed by trained and experienced professionals and access to professional support for help with issues of debt, housing, homelessness, returning to education and work - as well as a wide range of parenting and behaviour management courses and individual services.

Mr Western added: “In addition to these universal services our local children’s centre staff spend a significant proportion of their time and energy supporting families where children are at risk of being removed, or being made subject to child protection plans.

“Staff work hard towards encouraging families to be more resilient by helping them develop their parenting skills.”

Richard Dickson, a Kenilworth town councillor for the St John’s ward, said it is “ absolutely vital” for residents to respond to the forthcoming consultation and that the cuts were “not welcome”.

He added: “My experience of the children’s centre work in Kenilworth, and based in my ward, is that it definitely meets a local need.

“I will be pushing at the very least for there to be outreach in Kenilworth from one of the Warwick hubs.”