Suffolk’s children’s centres changes are ‘sugar-coating closures’

Suffolk’s shake up of children’s services could turn out to be little more than a ‘sugar-coated closure programme’, UNISON warns today.

UNISON, the trade union representing children’s centre staff, raises serious concerns about the plans in its response to the Council’s consultation, which closes at 5pm on Sunday. UNISON’s response is based on a survey and comments from staff working for the Council and in children’s centres.

Suffolk County Council’s redesign will result in cuts to more than half of the county’s 38 remaining children’s centres. The opening hours of 11 centres will reduce, nine will be repurposed and two will close entirely.

The Council is proposing to use the already stretched resources used for 0-5s to target other children up to the age of 19, UNISON warns. It is also unclear what level of central government funding will actually be available if the changes go ahead.

Under the current proposals there would be no change to staff numbers, but UNISON says that the Council has not taken account of the major shift in training, qualifications and skills required.

UNISON also poses a number of questions of its own in response to the consultation, asking what evidence the Council has for moving to the Family Hub model, what impact it will have on community cohesion and what changes will be required to staff’s working conditions.

UNISON Suffolk County branch secretary Neil Bland said: “The Council doesn’t seem to have put much thought into how this will affect staff, but we’re not confident they’ve even thought about this affects the children and families that rely on the services.

“Scores of staff have told us how vital children’s centres are to families and how essential the services they provide are to children’s development.

“We’ve seen no evidence that the Family Hubs model works, where the funding the will come from or how vulnerable families will be supported.

“The Council is spreading its existing resources thinner and thinner and it will inevitably have a devastating effect on vulnerable youngsters and their families.

“The Council can claim it’s improving services but there’s a real danger this shake up is just a sugar-coated closure programme.

“We urge the Council not to take away this life line for Suffolk’s families.”

A number of staff expressed their concerns to UNISON in the branch’s survey.

One said: “Children centres are there to help and support families throughout the county, the dedication and determination in the delivery of the service from staff is outstanding. They are passionate about what they are doing to support their local community. It will be a huge disappointment to see them repurposed or closed.

Another added: “The service provided to the families in the most important time of their lives of their children is essential to the child’s development and in the long term will prevent other costly services having to be provided if the family network fails. Early intervention rather than repairing the cracks with plasters at a later date.”

And a third said: “Many people from different backgrounds come to the children centres under the pretence of going to a group, to only then reveal post-natal depression, abuse and even rape … without these places I know these people will be lost and [that] will not be a good thing. We are helping people before it’s too late. To take that away spells disaster.”

Read the response