Hampshire County Council is asking for the views of service users, other stakeholders and members of the public, on a proposed new Family Support Service for families with children aged 0–19 years (or up to age 25 for young adults with learning difficulties and/or disabilities).
The theory of a 0-19 united service is a positive move, and one that has been developing over the last few years through the way professionals have been working closer together.
Worryingly though the proposal includes the closing of 43 Children’s Centres, and reducing the current staffing levels (currently 300 employees) for the Children’s Centres and the Early Help Hub by 60%.
The context is clearly driven by economic challenges: the County Council must meet a funding shortfall of £98 million by April 2017, and of this, the Council have decided that £21.5 million must be met from the Children’s Services budget. These proposals for changes to Children’s Centres and Early Help Hubs total £8.5 million of savings.
What are Children’s Centres & Early Help Hubs?
Introduced 17 years ago by the Labour government as Sure Start, children’s centres are designed to help parents in the community, providing a central hub for activities for under 5s, early education, health and family support. They have faced heavy cuts as a result of dwindling council budgets and hundreds have closed over the past five years, either by shutting down entirely or through mergers.
The Early Help Hub is a more recent innovation that came as a result of The Munro Review of Child Protection which argued a moral argument, a timing argument (now or never) to put right the problems in early years support; and an economic argument that early help hub was cost effective.
10 reasons we MUST keep Children’s Centres & Early Help Hubs
- The high level of reach: In the New Forest East cluster of Children’s Centres reach 84.5% of children under the age of 5 (3,648 out of 4319 children) – these are children who engage with universal and targeted services (this is 12.1% above the Hampshire County Council average). Even in the most deprived area of the cluster (Cadland and Forest First Children’s Centre) 83.7% of families are reached with universal and targeted activities.
- The support and development of parenting skills: over 4,600 parents in the last year across Hampshire had attended evidence-based parenting programmes such as PEEP, Positive Parenting Programme (Triple P) or Incredible Years in the last year.
- The number of parents supported into work and education: Over 1,000 parents across Hampshire have been supported into work, education, training or volunteering by their local Children’s Centre.
- The support and development of health lifestyles: 514 parents attended evidence based healthy lifestyle programmes such as Cook & Eat and Henry.
- The increase in accessing Early Years education: the Children’s Centres have actively promoted the 2 year old offer, and by Autumn term 2015 78% of eligible children were taking up the free entitlement in Good or Outstanding settings. In the the area of highest deprivation in the cluster (Holbury and North Blackfield) there is an 84% take-up rate.
- The support of parental health: research has shown using Children’s Centres in a consistent way predicted improved mental health outcomes for mothers later on, and taking children to organised activities (anywhere although Children’s Centres currently lead the way on under 5s provision) also predicted improved physical health outcomes for the mother. Most importantly the research showed that mothers who attended centres that were expanding services (in combination with no cuts to services) also showed improving mental health compared to mothers attending centres that experienced budget cuts and were reducing services.
- The support for Child Protection: 100% of children on Child Protection Plans are known to the Children’s Centres through routine notification by the Social Care Team and a very large majority in the New Forest East cluster (88.4%) are actively engaged (10.7% higher than the Hampshire average).
- The economic dangers: the National Audit Office states that it costs £33k to put a child into foster care, and £135k to put a child into residential care. All it takes is 258 children (23.45 children per District) taken into foster care or 63 children (5.7 children per District) taken into residential care for the whole of the £8.5m savings to be wiped out. Q1 of 2015 saw 2,073 children open to the Early Help Hub across Hampshire, of which 55% were stepped down from Child Protection and Child in Need plans and 45% were referred up from other agencies. If Early Help Hub services are dismantled how many more children and young people will end up on Child Protection plans?
- The political damage: only a few months ago Hampshire County Council stated that “The 2015-18 Children’s & Young People’s Plan will continue to be underpinned by our commitment to early help for children, young people and their families, identifying as early as possible whether a child or family need support, enhancing parental capacity, helping them to access services, and working together to ensure this has maximum impact.” – is this just another example of a broken promise by politicians.
- The voluntary sector cannot do anymore: running throughout the Hampshire consultation is the assumption that the voluntary sector will step in and run more universal and low-level targeted support. In the last year the voluntary sector has seen grants from Hampshire County Council shrink from £2.4m to £1.1m and yet they expect the voluntary sector to be able to increase their service capacity. In the New Forest Early Help Hub nearly 50% of cases are led and co-ordinated by members of the voluntary sector, again if there are 60% reductions in staffing who is going to be taking on the co-ordination of these cases?
Two-thirds of England’s children’s centres, more than 2,300, have had their budget cut in the past year, according to an annual census by the charity 4Children. These cuts follow four consecutive years of shrinking finances and means that almost a quarter report facing a highly uncertain future. More than half of the Children’s Centres who had experienced a cut said it would mean reductions to frontline services. Now, a further 130 centre sites are at risk of closure, according to the 4Children research.
Quotes from key leaders
Imelda Redmond, the charity’s chief executive, said:
“More than a million families use children’s centres. No other part of our national infrastructure offers the same opportunity to identify and address problems early; bring communities together and make public services work better for families.”
“Year on year reductions to children’s centre budgets are a real cause for concern. Our census shows that cuts are directly impacting on their abilities to reach out and support families. The trend towards targeting services on the most vulnerable risks missing those families who we would otherwise only see through universal services.”
The shadow Education Secretary, Lucy Powell, said:
“We’ve had nothing but broken promises from this Government on Sure Start. There are now 763 fewer centres since 2010 and services are withering on the vine in many areas.”
A DfE spokesperson said:
“We want to see strong children’s centres across the country, offering a wide range of local, flexible services, tackling disadvantage, and helping all children fulfil their potential. That is why we invested more than £2bn in early intervention last year.”
What can you do?
Please sign the petition to save the Hampshire Children’s Centres.
Most importantly please add your views to the Consultation that Hampshire County Council are running.