Proposed cuts to children’s centres ‘stark and unpalatable’

play08:24 Wednesday 11th November 2015
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

DOTTY MCLEOD: Vulnerable children in Cambridgeshire could stay in difficult family situations for longer instead of going into care, just one of the realities the County Council faces as it considers major cuts to its budget. The department that cares for young people in the county needs to find savings of £26.5 million next year. Reducing the number of children in care was just one of the challenges discussed at the Children’s Committee meeting yesterday. Our political reporter Hannah Olsson was there and joins us now from outside Romsey Mill Children’s Centre in Cambridge. Because Hannah, the children’s centres are another area where funding could be cut.
HANNAH OLSSON: Yes good morning Dotty. These are just proposals at the moment, but some of the options on the table are a significant reduction to the money given to children’s centres like Romsey Mill where I am this morning, ending the funding for the Connections bus which works with young people in Cambridgeshire’s rural villages, and cutting the amount of money they spend on getting young people to school. But the biggest cost and therefore the saving they face is for the money they spend looking after vulnerable children. That’s paying for social workers, placing children in foster care and helping with the care of the needs of children with disabilities. This is something the Council has a statutory responsibility to do. So they face difficult decisions keeping their legal responsibility whilst meeting their budget. It was summed up in yesterday’s meeting as ‘a horribly difficult decision to make’.
DOTTY MCLEOD: And Hannah, a couple of weeks ago I spoke to Charlotte Black, who is one of the Council directors. I spoke to her at the time that these cuts announcements were made. She admitted that they are going to have to take more risks. What does that mean?
HANNAH OLSSON: Well what they’ve said is that they’re going to be working on a best case scenario, rather than a worst case scenario, which as you said at the beginning could mean leaving children in difficult chaotic families for longer than they might at the moment. Now when this specific example was mentioned yesterday, one councillor said it screamed of Baby P, and that was a big worry. The officer’s response was that there would be more of an emphasis on prevention. They are hoping that communities will take up some of the slack, and step in to continue running some of those services, but obviously they said it’s inevitable that some of these services will have to stop altogether if the funding stops.
DOTTY MCLEOD: And this was a big meeting yesterday at the County Council. What else was discussed?
HANNAH OLSSON: Well there was considerable concern for the proposal to cut funding for getting over-16s to school, with councillors pointing out this would hit those in rural areas. The funding of children’s centres was also discussed at length. There’s 38 of these all over Cambridgeshire, providing early years support for families. Looking at what’s on here at Romsey Mill this week, there’s a parenting course, a toddler group, and midwife clinic for example. At the moment the majority of their funding comes from councils and family services, but under these proposals this money would be cut significantly. The Council is hoping to be able to keep some of these services open, looking at making centres bigger with a concentration of services. But the Chair of yesterday’s committee said that the loss of children’s centres in some areas would be disastrous, pointing out the irony that there was a greater emphasis on prevention in these proposals, but it was these centres that are a vital part in recognising problems early on.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Disastrous is a very strong word to use when you’re talking about the well-being of children in Cambridgeshire. Let’s talk more about this with the Chief Executive of Romsey Mill Neil Perry. Neil are you worried about the prospect of these cuts to children’s centres?
NEIL PERRY: Good morning Dotty. We’re concerned for children and young people and families, in particular the most vulnerable of those that are most at risk in Cambridgeshire and our local communities. But Romsey Mill is also committed and hopeful, and we’re going to double our efforts to continue to provide the support that’s needed to local families in need, as far as we’re able to.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Where does your funding come from at the moment?
NEIL PERRY: Romsey Mill is a well-established charity here in Cambridgeshire, and we provide a whole range of services. So our children’s centre services are only one part of what we provide to families, young people and children. but it’s true that our funding for our children’s centre services, by and large comes from the County Council with contracted services, service delivering the support to families, to young children. And so we’re facing the same challenge as every other children’s centre in the county, as we’re looking at the prospect of stark and unpalatable cuts to budgets. These difficult decisions, we’re wanting to work very hard with the county on the best support.
DOTTY MCLEOD: What kind of children Neil , what kind of children do you work with at the children’s centres?
NEIL PERRY: So these are young children, children under the age of five, and their parents, their families. Children’s centres are early help preventative services. So we’re seeking to meet needs early, in order to prevent an escalation of risk and difficulty. So the services are currently universal to all families, but we target the support, as does every children’s centre, to those who are most vulnerable, those that need particular support at particular times.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Neil, thank you for your time this morning. That’s the Chief Executive of Romsey Mill, Neil Perry, speaking to me this morning.