Shutting Unthank Centre would put more children at risk, Norwich meeting hears

The number of children put on the child protection register and taken into care could grow if a Norwich family centre is closed down, a public meeting heard last night.

The Unthank Centre, which provides therapeutic support from children from birth to age 12, is under threat of closure as Norfolk County Council looks to make savings of at least �155m over the next three years.

The centre, in Unthank Road, has a team of 12, including therapists, social workers and teachers, who provide help and therapy for children who have suffered trauma and abuse. They work with about 300 families a year.

Under council proposals, the centre would close and its service would be spread across the council's three area divisions, with the number of staff halved to six.

Nearly 1,800 have signed a petition in support of the centre, and a meeting at Holy Trinity Church Hall, Cambridge Street, heard strong opposition to the closure proposals.

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It was chaired by former Norwich North Labour MP Dr Ian Gibson, who said: 'This is a complete knee-jerk reaction. For councillors the easiest thing is to pick on vulnerable people in society who can't fight back.

'This is a valuable service in this city and in this county, and if anything, it should be expanding, not contracting.'

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Dr Gibson said he feared councillors had already made up their mind to close the centre ahead of Monday's budget-setting meeting. 'It's time to tell them that they are not going to get away with it,' he said.

The meeting was read a letter from a foster carer who said the closure would have a terrible impact on a boy in her care. 'Without this work, he would become a very troubled teenager,' she said.

It would confirm his belief that when he put his trust in people, they just walked away, she added.

Cathy Kenney, team manager at the centre, said: 'What's beautiful is the safety we provide for families and children and for workers to deal very carefully with some of life's troubles. We don't believe those troubles can be dealt with in busy schools and unpredictable surroundings.'

Another member of staff said there would be a 'staggering level of unmet need' if it was shut down. 'The fieldwork teams are on their knees and they will be further crippled if they try to effect any change,' she said.

Closure would also lead to more children being put on the child protection register and taken into care, she added. Other speakers said keeping the centre open would save money in the long run by helping troubled youngsters stay away from crime, drugs and alcohol.

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