Public responds over Norfolk children’s centres merger plan

More than 1,000 people have responded to a public consultation on plans to merge the services of at least three-quarters of Norfolk's 54 children's centres.

Reduced government funding and a shift in national policy on what children's centres should provide has led to the county council's proposed overhaul of the current network.

It is proposed that there will be no change to children's centres at: North Walsham; Spixworth and Sprowston; Attleborough; Hunstanton; Long Stratton; Diss; Earlham Early Years Centre; East City and Framingham Earl; North City; Catton Grove, Fiddlewood and Mile Cross; City and Eaton; Bowthorpe, West Earlham and Costessey; Watton.

But the other 41 are set to be amalgamated to save spending on administration and management.

Sure Start Children's Centres were devised by the Labour government in the late 1990s and early 21st century, to try to tackle child poverty and give poorer families access to better services and care.

Over the last six years, the county council has helped to establish 54 children's centres in Norfolk, beginning in the most deprived areas and eventually extending to cover the entire county.

They are at a range of locations - including purpose-built centres, in schools or in community centres.

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The government policy changes mean children's centres need to change their focus, become more accountable and reach at least 600 children.

Despite the proposed changes, the council is aiming to ensure that all under-fives can access children's centre services.

Today the council's children's services overview and scrutiny panel will look at the preferred options before recommendations are taken to cabinet for a final decision on June 13.

Alison Thomas, cabinet member for children's services, said: 'We really value our children's centres and know they play a tremendously important role in early intervention work, supporting parents of young children and providing advice and guidance on health, care, education and support services.

'We have worked hard to ensure that we can protect children's centre services and the scale of responses to the consultation show just how highly they are regarded in local communities.

'We need to restructure the management of these centres to ensure we can provide centres that offer the best value for money and focus our resources on services for Norfolk's children and their families.'

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