Fears Norfolk children’s centres could close as County Hall considers £5m cut
- Credit: � ARCHANT NORFOLK PHOTOGRAPHIC
The future of Norfolk's children's centres is unclear, with councillors considering halving how much is spent on them.
Norfolk County Council, which needs to plug a £125m budget gap by 2022, is considering cutting £5m from the £10m budget to commission children's centres.
And opposition councillors fear some children's centres will close.
The Conservative-controlled council is keen to get services to share buildings - which could see children's centres and libraries under one roof.
The council says services will survive, but the way they are provided could change, while they could move away from providing services which anyone can access.
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The council says by getting children's centre services to work more closely with other community services, support for vulnerable families will improve.
It says it is looking at its current children's centre service, to ensure they provide the right support, to the right children, in the right place.
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When asked if all 53 children's centres would still operate in the future, the council said it was 'too early' to say.
A county council spokeswoman said: 'It is proposed that children's centre service delivery will continue to operate across the county, but the hub, or base they are provided from, could change, as we look at how we can share premises and join up local service delivery.
'Some of our children's centre services are already offered on an outreach basis, in community buildings.
'It is too early to say exactly what any new model would look like and any proposals would be subject to full consultation.'
Penny Carpenter, chairman of the council's children's services committee, said: 'Even with these changes, we will continue to invest £5m in children's centre services – one of the highest amounts of any county in the country.'
'This, coupled with the extra £12m we're investing in early help and preventative work for families over the next four years, will mean a better deal for our most vulnerable children.'
But Steve Morphew, leader of the opposition Labour group at County Hall, said the numbers did not stack up and feared centres would shut.
He said: 'We will be calling on them to come clean and spell out what the future of children's centres is.'
What do children's centres do?
There are 53 children's centres in Norfolk, which offer a free range of services, information and support to families with children under the age of eight.
Services vary at each centre, but can include:
• Advice for during pregnancy
• Parenting advice and support - for example, advice on sleeping and understanding children's development
• Stay and play sessions
• Health services - such as child health clinics and baby weigh-in sessions
• Family support - such as advice on finances and dealing with stress
Last year saw Norfolk County Council reduce its funding for children's centres by £3m, with centres forced to scrap or scale back services.
National research concluded mothers who attended centres which were growing and had not been hit by cuts, had improved mental health compared to those attending centres which had experienced budget cuts.
Package of £10.5m savings in the spotlight
The proposed cut in funding for children's centres is part of a package of just over £10.5m savings which will be considered by councillors next week.
Members of Norfolk County Council's children's services committee will also consider how the authority is aiming to save £5m by reducing the number of looked after children in the county.
The council is pumping £12m into reducing the numbers by up to 400 over the next four years.
And the authority, which is expecting a fresh inspection from Ofsted inspectors, who have twice rated children's services as inadequate, wants to save £200,000 in 2019/20 by reducing its reliance on agency social workers.
Councillors will also consider charging more for the training it gives nurseries, pre-schools and other early years providers.
And the council is looking to save more than £280,000 by reducing how much it spends on getting legal advice over social work decision making.