Baby groups protected in response to parent consultation

The numbers of Designated Children’s Centres to be merged under budget saving proposals in Brighton & Hove has fallen by 2 to 10 while drop in baby groups will be protected under revised plans following consultation with parents.

The move is in response to overwhelming feedback that highlights how highly valued the council’s children’s centres are and follows proposals designed to save almost £800,000.

The original proposals set out in the consultation were put together by children’s services in the context of a funding gap of £100 million over the next four years due to rising costs and the council losing government funding.

The council’s priority has been to maintain services for those families in greatest need of support.  Proposals included reducing the number of designated children’s centres from 12 to 8 and time limiting groups open to everyone with an eight week course for new parents and a term long course for children under two.

The consultation closed on 2 February with 842 responses.  A summary of the consultation is being published on the council’s website. The majority of responders disagreed with the rationale and the proposals.  Half of all responders agreed that children and families who need more help should be given priority for services.

Revised proposals have been published which take account of the consultation. Papers here

Hollingbury and Patcham, and City View will be retained as designated children’s centres while Cornerstone and West Hove will be re-designated as linked sites. This means that they will continue to offer provision for young children and their families.

All designated children’s centres will offer an on-going, open-access drop in group for non-mobile babies.  There will be fewer stay and play groups across the city but each children’s centre will offer one open access group, with more groups in areas where children have the lowest education and health outcomes.

Council staff will continue to provide home based interventions for families with the highest needs and funding will be retained for childcare places for children with child protection and early help plans.  Transition funding will also be offered for voluntary sector partners.

The revised plans include one-off funding from the Early Years element of the Dedicated Schools Grant set aside for early years work.  This funding means that the impact in the proposed reduction of the council’s funding for children’s centre funding falls from £779,000 to £510,000. The DSG will fund child care places for children with Early Help and Child Protection Plans for 2015/16.  The use of childcare places will be reviewed as part of the children’s services value for money programme.

Pinaki Ghoshal, Brighton & Hove City Council’s Executive Director of Children’s Services, said the council had listened to parents.

He said: “We have listened to parents, staff and partners and what we have been told is that our children’s centre services are highly valued.  Parents strongly argued that universal groups are effective in reaching all parents including those who need most support.

“We have now adjusted our proposals in response to this feedback.  We will offer drop in groups for parents with babies that are not yet crawling but will no longer offer separate courses for new parents.  The savings we have to make mean that we have to reduce the number of stay and play groups that we run.

 “These proposal will now go to budget-setting council meeting on February 26.”

 “No children’s centre will be ‘closed’. The title ‘Children’s Centre’ is a statutory legal definition. Under the revised proposals two of the 12 centres would lose this specific legal status and those are West Hove and Cornerstone.

“All of these buildings would remain open and would continue to provide some services for young children including health visiting. Cornerstone is a community centre that runs a wide range of services.

“We have been working very successfully for a number of years to develop the capacity of local parents and carers to run or assist on a volunteer basis at groups that operate at children’s centres.

“Many parents have found this role very enjoyable and fulfilling, and in some cases the training and experience they have gained has enabled them to find paid employment. We want to increase the number of parents able to volunteer in this way. We would continue to offer rooms at all our centres free of charge to parent-run groups. We are not trying to stop these groups happening and we hope they will continue to operate.

To view the proposals and the consultation feedback see Budget Council papers here