Children’s service helps thousands - but opposition brands it 'sticking plaster'

Children's centres could be closed. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Children's centres could be closed. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: © ARCHANT NORFOLK PHOTOGRAPHIC

A new service that has provided support to thousands of families with young children in its first year has failed to fill the “gaping hole” left by the closure of children’s centres, opposition councillors have claimed. 

Norfolk County Council took the controversial decision to close 38 of its 53 children's centres last year.

The Early Childhood and Family Service (ECFS) instead offers support for children under-five through home visits, phone calls and online advice. 

More than 1,250 families have received individual support with thousands more accessing information and advice online during its first year of operation, the council said. 

John Fisher, cabinet member for childrens services. Picture: Norfolk County Council

John Fisher,  Norfolk County Council cabinet member for children's services. - Credit: Archant

John Fisher, cabinet member for children’s services, said: “In connecting the different services across different parts of the council, and across the county, we’ve been able to improve the support we’re offering to families, whatever situation they find themselves in.”

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With families facing increased pressures during lockdown, the service has also provided food packages, essential items, support with travel and help with paying bills during the pandemic, he said.

By the start of December, the ECFS Family Support Fund had provided £184,000 of additional support to families, including more than £49,000 to those with increased needs due to the pandemic.

A protest at County Hall against the closure of the children's centres. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

A protest at County Hall against the closure of the children's centres. - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2018

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Mr Fisher said: “The innovation and use of technology has meant families, who could have been more isolated than ever, have been able to connect with professionals and other parents across Norfolk and receive the support they need.”

However opposition councillors said the new service was a “sticking plaster”.

Labour’s lead for children and young people, Mike Smith-Clare said: “With appalling digital poverty and patchy connectivity affecting many, the expectation that a phone call or online chat is comparable to the support offered by a physical children’s centre is beyond belief. 

“The fact that this change is heralded as a success becomes even more ridiculous, when no comparable performance data can be offered to support the claim.

Mike Smith-Clare, Labour county councillor and spokesman on childrens services, said his party was n

Mike Smith-Clare, Labour county councillor and spokesman on children's services. - Credit: Archant

“Having spoken to numerous parents - it is evident that they miss the contact, support and advice offered by children’s centres.

“Many feel that yet again Norfolk’s children have been treated as third class citizens. For those of us who fought their closure, and are still battling to save Holt Hall, it feels more like they’ve been consigned to the bin.”

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