Charity wins £5.2m contract to run surviving Norfolk children’s centres

Protesters against the closure of children's centres march through Great Yarmouth. Picture: DENISE B

Protesters against the closure of children's centres march through Great Yarmouth. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2018

The identity of the charity which has won the £5.2m contract to run the Norfolk's children's centres which have been spared the axe has been revealed.

Norfolk County Council has confirmed that Action For Children will run the early childhood and family service from October this year.

The council took the controversial decision to shut 38 of the 53 children's centres in January as part of a move away from using centres to directly provide services.

Fifteen centres will survive as bases, with the council promising a targeted early childhood and family service in the community for families with children aged up to five, including in libraries, village halls and people's homes.

Staff in the centres were given the news today.

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Sara Tough, director of children's services, said: 'I'm confident that Action for Children will make a success of delivering our more targeted, consistent and accessible service, in line with national best practice.'

Emma Horne, Action for Children's director of children's services for England South, said: 'We're thrilled to have been chosen to deliver the new service from October, and to be able to continue supporting children and families across Norfolk.

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'We know that services such as these can be a lifeline for families and our work in the 15 new hubs will be delivered in a wide variety of community venues, targeting the areas and families that most need our help.

'Details of the new structure are still being worked through with the council ahead of the service opening and we are fully committed to continuing our vital work supporting families and children across the county.'

The budget to commission the services has been cut from £10.2m to £5.2m, although the council insists it should be seen amid a bigger package of investment.

They say there will be improved joint working with other organisations, better on-line advice and information, while Norfolk's 47 libraries are extending their bounce and rhyme and stay and chat sessions.

The 38 children's centres being axed will all have closed their doors by October at the latest.

But council bosses say they hope the majority of the remaining former children's centres sites will continue to be used by providers of services for children and families - supported by a £500,000 grant fund.

However, parents and opposition councillors were angry about the changes, with protests held, including in the streets of Great Yarmouth and at County Hall.

And the Local Dental Committee recently expressed its 'dismay' at the closures, saying the centres gave a good opportunity to get information to 'hard to reach families' about the importance of oral health.

A number of centres across Suffolk, including those in Lowestoft, are under the threat of closure as part of a wide-ranging review of services by Suffolk County Council.

As many as half of the existing 38 could face closure, sources indicated earlier this month.

Which centres will remain as bases for the new service?

Breckland: Swaffham; Thetford (Kingsway)

Broadland: Acle; Drayton and Taverham

Great Yarmouth borough: Great Yarmouth (Priory); Seagulls

King's Lynn & West Norfolk borough: Downham Market; Nar

North Norfolk: Fakenham; North Walsham

Norwich city: Catton Grove, Fiddlewood, Mile Cross (CFM); City and Eaton; Earlham

South Norfolk: Diss; Long Stratton

Action For Children already runs the centres at Diss, Swaffham, Fakenham, Long Stratton, Drayton and Taverham, City and Eaton, CFM, Nar and Downham Market

The other centres are run by organisations including the Great Yarmouth Community Trust, Earlham Early Years Centre and Norfolk Community Health and Care

Children's services 'at breaking point'

Meanwhile, a parliamentary report has warned children's services in England are 'at breaking point' and need more than £3 billion in additional government funding over the years to 2025.

The report also called for reform of the system to make local authority children's services sustainable in the long-term.

The cross-party Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee blamed 'constricted funding and ever increasing demand' for piling pressure on children's services.

It called for a review to look into the factors behind a steady increase in demand for children's social services, which has seen the number of children in care surge from 59,400 to 75,420 between 2008 and 2018.

The report cited high turnover of staff as a sign of 'a system that isn't working well', warning: 'Children pay the price as professional relationships break down. It has a cost for local authorities who resort to filling vacancies with agency.'

The committee called on Chancellor Philip Hammond to use this year's spending review to deliver an increase of at least £3.1 billion in core funding for the period to 2025.

It also said the government should announce a successor scheme to the Troubled Families Programme to provide local authorities with certainty about funding streams beyond 2020.

Committee chairman Clive Betts said: 'Over the last decade we have seen a steady increase in the number of children needing support, whilst at the same time funding has failed to keep up.

'It is clear that this approach cannot be sustained and the government must make serious financial and systemic changes to support local authorities in helping vulnerable children.

'They must understand why demand is increasing and whether it can be reduced. They must ensure that the funding formula actually allows local authorities to meet the obligations for supporting children that the Government places on them.

'We have reached a crisis point and action is needed now.'

A government spokeswoman said: ''Every child deserves to grow up in a stable, loving family where they feel supported. We must help parents who face difficulties, to strengthen their family relationships so they can properly support their children.

'That is why we're putting an extra £410m into social care this year, including children's - alongside £84m over the next five years to keep more children at home with their families safely, helping reduce the demand on services. '

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