Petition opposes closure of children and family centres across West Sussex
A petition opposing the closure of the vast majority of children and family centres across West Sussex has been signed by more than 1,500 people.
West Sussex County Council is facing huge budget pressures and a redesign of early help services would help it save £1.95milllion.
But as proposed 32 of 43 children and family centres would close, while all 12 Find It Out youth advice facilities would shut as well.
The Tory-led county council, which has been calling for extra central government funding to avoid making cuts, said its priority for Early Help services is to work with the most vulnerable children and families.
But Labour argues the core purpose of children and family centres is to improve outcomes for young children and their families, reduce inequalities between families in greatest need and their peers in child development and improve parenting skills and child and family health and life chances.
The children and family centres at threat of closure are:
Adur: Boundstone (Sompting), Lancing and Stepping Stones (Fishersgate).
Arun: Angmering, Bognor Regis (Victoria Drive), East Preston, Felpham and Yapton.
Chichester: Midhurst, Petworth, Selsey and Southbourne.
Crawley: Langley Green & Ifield, Maidenbower, Northgate, Pound Hill and Southgate.
Horsham: Horsham (Harwood Road), Roffey, Southwater, Storrington, Pulborough and Billingshurst.
Mid Sussex: East Grinstead (library), East Grinstead (Blackwell), Sidney West - Burgess Hill, The Gattons - Burgess Hill and Hurstpierpoint.
Worthing: Footprints (Crescent Road), Maybridge (Goring) and The Wave (East Worthing).
Part of WSCC’s plans for a community hub at Worthing Library include children and family services.
Cllr Arnold, from St Mary’s ward in Shoreham, said: “The closure of our family and youth centres in West Sussex shows a deep lack of understanding that these centres are literally a lifeline for many women and their children and will be again after Covid.
“I know from personal experience when I was a young mother, I had no income at one point and a baby, that I could visit the centre get advice on breastfeeding and baby health and see friends. This was an incredibly important support service for both mine and my children’s wellbeing.”
Cllr Cowen, who represents Mash Barn ward in Lancing, said: “As a Lancing councillor, resident and father, I’m very concerned that we could lose both children’s centres and the youth centre. I can’t emphasise strongly enough how important the centres on North Road and Upper Boundstone Lane are for supporting parents and it must be retained as a universal service.
“There’s a perplexing paradox where the local authorities press for the building of 600 new family homes on New Monks Farm whilst proposing the closures of the nearby family and youth centres.”
Cllr Walker, from Selden ward in Worthing, is a community psychologist at the University of Brighton and has worked closely with a number of children and family centres. He added: “Research shows just how incredibly effective these centres are. These short-sighted cuts will create more social problems in our communities and will inevitably end up costing the council more money in the long run. It is dreadful mismanagement to close these centres, especially now during Covid when there are so many families in need. This is clearly a cost cutting measure by a council strapped for cash by the Conservative government who have stripped 60p in every £1 that councils could spend on local services since 2010.”
The proposed changes are due to be discussed by the county council’s children and young people’s services select committee on Thursday (January 7).
Welcoming the petition, Michael Jones, Labour group leader at County Hall, added: “The West Sussex Tory cuts keep on coming – now it’s the Sure Start children and family centres which have helped local families so much across the county.
“It’s unthinkable to inflict these socially devastating cuts on our residents. So many people have benefitted from this support and it will take this county backwards to lose it. The petitioners have the full support of Labour county councillors in fighting for these valuable frontline services and I am delighted this petition already has over a thousand signatures in less than one day. This just underlines the strength of feeling.”
Announcing the proposed changes last week, Jacquie Russell, cabinet member for children and young people, said: “The priority of our Early Help service is to work with the most vulnerable children and families. We have made significant investment in our children’s services and are starting to show real improvements which has been recognised by the Department for Education (DfE).
“As part of our improvement plan we need to be more targeted in reaching the families we know need the most help and support. These plans would help us to do that. Rather than expecting vulnerable children and families to come to us, our plan is for our staff to go to them.
“These proposals are about doing the best we can for vulnerable children and families. Any changes made will be subject to full and through consultation where I would encourage people to come and have their say.”
Do you use any of the affected services? Send us your thoughts by emailing the newsdesk.