Suffolk Children's Centre Services Under Threat of Closure

Published on August 9, 2019 by

Suffolk County Council’s Policy Development Panel (PDP), a cross party political board, has reviewed Suffolk’s Children Centres before a public consultation takes place in the autumn.

Of the 38 children’s centres, 16 full time family hubs will remain open; 10 would be repurposed for school space or to provide childcare places, one would become a special educational needs assessment centre; and 9 would offer reduced services on a part time basis and 2 will close (Chatterbox in Ipswich and Caterpillar in Woodbridge).

As a general principal UNISON Suffolk County would not want to see any children’s centres close as they should be available to all families in the community under current legislation and should be adequately funded by government, and inspected by Ofsted.

The current and previous government had ignored the development of children’s centres for years, which is having an impact on Suffolk County Council’s ability to provide the universal offer that benefits families with preschool children.

UNISON Suffolk County welcomes the idea of additional space in schools, for more childcare places, and support for young people and vulnerable families, BUT these should not be to the detriment of the children’s centre services, but additional to them.

UNISON’s regional organiser Sam Leigh said,

“Whatever way you spin it, the government is expecting local councils to do more for less, and to use funding from the 0-19 healthy child programme to prop up what remains of Sure Start children’s centres.

UNISON acknowledges there are those in Westminster who want to shift the focus away from universal services and prevention but this is not current children’s centres legislation. These proposals are reminiscent of the old family centre model from twenty years ago, which stigmatised certain families known to social care.

Do we really imagine that teenagers will be happy to share a provision with early years children? What we need is well supported and funded youth services and safe spaces for young people to engage in positive activities.”

Over the coming weeks and months UNISON will let members know how they can play a part in protesting any closures. These proposed cuts to services are because of a lack of government funding. If we sit back and do nothing what will they come for next?

The council stated that “the PDP visited other authorities who have undergone similar reviews and spent time at some of the centres throughout Suffolk. The Panel’s recommendations also take into account feedback from families who use these services and staff.” See the children’s centre proposals in full in the Suffolk County Council cabinet papers Agenda Item 9 plus appendices A to G.

The East Anglian Daily Times has produced a useful summary of the proposals (click here).

The council has given the rationale that it is focusing its limited resources to vulnerable families with children aged 0-19; which is a further move away from the original children’s centre model of a universal service for families with children aged 0 to 5 years.

Jack Abbott, Labour spokesperson for children's services, said: "I am not surprised, but I am absolutely furious. "These children's centres are a vital lifeline for families. They should be ashamed that, once again, they are proposing a policy that will hurt young families and negatively impact the outcomes of children."

You can help by providing UNISON with some anonymous quotes to use in publicity – telling us exactly why you think this is devastating for Suffolk.

Make your voice heard by using our comment box at:

This will help UNISON plan our campaigning activity and support to affected children’s centre staff over the coming months.

Kind regards

Neil Bland

Branch Secretary