Questions on impact of closure of children and family centres across Adur and Worthing
Councillors were questioned over the closure of children and family centres during a meeting of Adur and Worthing Councils’ joint overview and scrutiny committee last night (September 16).
Kevin Boram (Con, Buckingham) is the Adur executive member for health and wellbeing and Sean McDonald (Con, Northbrook) is his Worthing counterpart.
They oversee issues concerning children and young people, public health, equality and diversity, among others.
The joint overview and scrutiny committee, or ‘JOSC’, plays a role in holding executive members to account and reviewing their work and decisions.
During the meeting, Margaret Howard (Lab, Broadwater) asked how Worthing Borough Council would ‘mitigate the impacts on vulnerable families’ following the closure of children and family centres across West Sussex by the county council.
Mr McDonald said: “There are 12 children and family hubs that are going to remain open and Worthing and Adur have got five of those – one of those being the Worthing community library.
“The early help redesign was about redesigning the service so it was not constrained to a building – because vulnerable families were not walking into the children and family centres to get help.
“The pandemic proved that, although centres were closed, requests for help were and now are at a record high.”
Mr McDonald said that a ‘new model’ for early help could be complete by December 21.
He added: “This is where early help workers will be going out to families rather than expecting them to come to a building.”
He said that Worthing Borough Council ‘would continue to support vulnerable families in a number of ways’ such as via community and voluntary groups as well as through services such as Citizen’s Advice and supporting families with food and school uniforms.
“I don’t think it is all doom and gloom at the moment,” he said.
But Ms Howard wanted to know how the council would stop families from ‘falling through the gaps’ after the closure of more than 30 centres.
Mr McDonald said WBC is doing ‘significant work’ to support vulnerable families, particularly those suffering from food poverty and poor mental health.
He said: “The word proactive is also an important part of this – this will enable our council to continue to use data, triggers and indicators that a family might be in difficulties, such as missed rent or council tax payments, and contact them before they get into debt.”
According to Mr McDonald, councillors ‘play a front-line role’ in helping families.
He explained: “As councillors, I think we do know the vulnerable families, the vulnerable people, in our wards and hopefully we will be assisting them and pointing them in the right direction.”
Ms Howard said she was concerned that community groups and charities would have to pick up the strain from closing services.
She said: “My concern is, at the moment, it’s mostly community groups and charities picking up, for instance, the food.
“But what exactly can Worthing Borough Council offer in terms of money, in terms of space, to help the families that need support that they’re now having withdrawn?”
In response, Mr McDonald said the council are working to develop a food network and provide storage for groups who help to distribute food donations. He said that food groups had been ‘staggered’ by the number of donations and therefore needed a place to store them.
This follows closure of all but 12 children and family centres as part of West Sussex County Council’s redesign of its early help services.
The decision to close the centres was taken in July and the county council said it would help it make more effective use of its resources.
It is expected that the closures would remove £1.95 million from its expenses.
Speaking before the decision to close the centres in January, Jacquie Russell, cabinet member for children and young people at WSCC, said: “Rather than expecting vulnerable children and families to come to us, our plan is for our staff to go to them.”
The closures followed a public consultation with many asking for them not to go ahead. One petition against the plans gained more than 10,000 signatures.
West Sussex’s 12 remaining children and family centres are:
Kingston Buci, Shoreham
Treehouse, Bognor Regi