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'A poor substitute' - new children's service launches after mass closures

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. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Archant

Families are being "sold short" after the mass closure of children's centres, according to Labour, as a replacement service launches today (Tues).

Protesters against the closure of Children's Centres ready to march through Great Yarmouth. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYProtesters against the closure of Children's Centres ready to march through Great Yarmouth. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Norfolk County Council's children's services committee took the controversial decision to close 38 of the 53 children's centres in January.

It has seen the council move away from using centres to directly provide services, through a new Early Childhood and Family Service for child aged between 0 and 5.

Fifteen centres have survived as bases and will today become Norfolk's Early Childhood and Family Service.

There are two bases in each district and three in Norwich. There will also be Bounce and Rhyme sessions at each of the council's 47 libraries.

Mike Smith-ClareMike Smith-Clare

The council has also promised a targeted service in the community, including in libraries, village halls and people's homes.

But Mike Smith-Clare, Labour lead for children and young people, said it was a "poor substitute for a tried and tested support framework" over the last two decades.

"It's a travesty on a grand scale to pretend closing children's centres was anything other than damaging to the prospects for children in Norfolk," he added.

Norfolk County Council has said the new service will "focus on helping families who might need extra support to care for their child".

John Fisher, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for children's services. Photo: Broadland District CouncilJohn Fisher, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for children's services. Photo: Broadland District Council

It will include one-to-one and group support for parents, offering play sessions, baby massage, healthy relationships courses and programmes to boost self-esteem.

John Fisher, cabinet member for children's services, said the new service would aim to reach out to people who "might not have been accessing services in the past".

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"There will be group and one-to-one support for those who need it, particularly those who might be finding parenting tough and this will include work in families' homes and in places like village halls, libraries and cafes," he said.

He said the council has also set aside £250,000 a year as a community development fund to support local groups and activities.

The aims of the new Early Childhood and Family Service are to support children to achieve their developmental milestones, prevent more children aged 0-5 from experiencing neglect or emotional harm and to increase social mobility.

Mr Smith-Clare added: "Investing in our children's futures is never a bad idea.

"Selling them short like this new service just stores up problems, and costs will come back as a big social and financial bill we'll all be picking up in future."

"If the council can borrow huge sums to fund road schemes overspending, we can borrow to secure the buildings required as that is far better value for money.

"It actually won't take much extra cash to return the new inadequate provision to what parents expect and what their children need and we'll find it from pet schemes, reducing excessive councillor allowances or wherever we have to. We'll make sure it is effective and cost effective by working with parents and the professionals who have been discarded in the closures and clear outs."

Stephen Sipple, Operational Director for Action for Children, said: "We know services such as these can be a lifeline for families. Our work will mainly be delivered in a wide variety of community venues as well as in the 15 bases and our frontline staff will be working with families who need support the most and in the areas of greatest need."

Norfolk County Council is also developing Early Childhood Advisory Boards.

These boards will be made up of parents and representatives from local agencies and will assess local needs and help make decisions on how and where to award the £250,000 community fund.

For more information about early childhood in Norfolk visit www.norfolk.gov.uk/earlychildhood.

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