Big thanks to CatherineD for this report.
It puts the Council’s ‘Big Budget Challenge’ consultation exercise into its true context.
Lewisham Council are seeking further budget savings and as a result have been looking into making cuts affecting Children’s Centres across the Borough. They held a consultation around these cuts and I attended the consultation meeting at Beecroft Garden School in Brockley a few weeks ago.
The consultation was well attended by parents who were passionate about the services they’d received.

 

  • People were clear that the centre had literally saved their lives at times when they had felt utterly isolated and desperate;
  • it had enabled parents to build their own support networks and make friends; it had helped parents with SEN children access the services they needed and taught them how to help their own children more effectively;
  • it helped victims of domestic violence escape from that cycle, taking their children with them;
  • it helped me (and I’m sure many others like me) at those times when I felt I was failing as a parent and was at the end of my tether.
  • It gave people a place to have fun with their children. It has become a warm, welcoming home from home for many vulnerable families and children.
Most parents there understood that savings needed to be made and were reassured when we were told by the Interim Head of Children’s Services that “there were no plans to close any Children’s Centres” but maybe the services offered by different centres might have to change to maximise efficiency.

 

The report to the Mayor has just come out and it proposes that of the 17 Children’s Centres in the Borough, 13 be deregistered for Ofsted, including Beecroft Garden [plus Torridon and Manor House Children Centres].
NOTE:If a Children’s Centre is deregistered, then Health Visitors, Social Services and GPs can no longer refer vulnerable families to it for support.  The Children’s Centres are designed to support vulnerable families and have targets set around the support they offer, on both the number of families they help and how effective that help is.  If families cannot be referred, the Centre cannot meet its targets and loses it purpose for being. Deregistration is effectively closure by stealth.

Only 4 Children’s Centres would remain in Lewisham – Clyde, Ladywell, Bellingham and Downderry.
This despite the council’s own report stating that:

 

  • The consultation shows that Children’s Centres in Lewisham and the services offered are greatly valued by those who use them and that the majority of respondents (65%) go to Centres within walking distance from their homes. (Pg 7, section 7.1)
    and a ‘Key Risk’ being
    Fewer families will be included in the contracts for targeted support. As these will be families in need they will have fewer services to rely on in the borough and their needs may escalate, leading to poorer outcomes for children. (Pg 8, section 9.2)

     

    Leaving aside the moral implications of cutting services to families and children in such desperate circumstances, to me it is common sense that the early intervention and support the Children’s Centres provide actually reduce future costs to the council.  Children and families who need this support will not stop needing it, but it will be pushed up the chain and identified at school age, so the strain is on schools instead, or on youth offending services. The later the support is given, the less effective it is likely to be.

    There is a public meeting tomorrow at 5.50pm at the Civic Suite where the report will be passed to the Mayor – please attend if you can.There will also be further consultation about the deregistration so there is still time to make your voice heard.