Majority of West Sussex children and family centres still under threat of closure

The closure of the majority of West Sussex children and family centres could be agreed later this month.

Friday, 9th July 2021, 4:32 pm

West Sussex County Council consulted on a redesign of its early help services earlier this year with 1,948 people, including 301 children and young people, responding.

The initial proposals, which the council says are about ensuring the most effective use of resources by focusing on those most in need, would have seen just 11 of the current 43 children and family centres retained. All the Find It Out young advice centres are slated for closure.

Following the consultation, officers are proposing to keep an additional centre at Lancing.

One of the West Sussex children and family centres slated for closure

Other changes would see Find It Out services run in the remaining children and family centres, including after school drop-in and daily bookable appointments where early help will travel to a location that suits a young person.

Early help will continue to offer some specific group work where there is an identified need and dedicated staffing in the centres will be responsible for publicising services so people know how to get the support they need.

The revised proposals are due to be discussed by the children and young people’s services scrutiny committee on Tuesday July 20 and make recommendations to cabinet, which is meeting the week after.

A report on the consultation responses noted strong support for the need to find further resources to work with the most vulnerable but not necessarily at the expense of closing individual centres.

There is ‘great public affection and loyalty’ towards the existing centres, including in their role as a focus and meeting place within their communities.

But officers noted respondents found it difficult to differentiate between the centres’ public health functions, which are broadly unaffected by the proposals, and their early help functions.

Many also mistakenly assumed the proposal involved ending all services and functions within the centres proposed for the withdrawal of early help services.

Officers said: “This is evidenced by frequent references to universal health services, for instance health visiting, midwifery, breastfeeding support, play groups, baby-weigh, which, as explained above, are not under review and outside the consultation exercise.”

A new model is proposed from the remaining 12 family centres, which would be open on a full-time basis and provide the opportunity for children’s social care staff to co-locate.

The county council proposes ‘an increase in staff delivering targeted support with a view to the service operating in a more flexible way in local communities’.

Children who are identified as in need of help through an early help plan, will receive whole-family coordinated support from a dedicated 1:1 support worker in their home and community.

If the redesign is approved, the county council says it will work with Public Health to negotiate lease arrangements with health partners to try and facilitate the continued delivery of the healthy child programme from those buildings.

The property and assets team has already been in discussions about the future use of buildings and have started to collate expressions of interest.

Jacquie Russell, cabinet member for children and young people, said: “I would like to thank everyone who took the time to share their views and ideas as part of the consultation.

“The public consultation has been an important part of the process in redesigning our Early Help services. We’ve listened to the views of the public, including children and young people, parents and carers, our partners, and past and present service users. Their feedback and insight helped us re-shape our proposals in a way that will best support the service to meet future challenges together with our communities.”

If revised proposals are agreed later this month, it is anticipated that staff consultation on the proposals will begin in September with the new model being implemented in December.

Labour is encouraging people to register to watch the scrutiny committee and cabinet webcasts online.

Labour county councillor Alison Cornell said: “There is nothing in these new proposals to give me any comfort whatever. In my own division, closing Langley Green’s Sure Start Centre will mean 68,008 opportunities to provide support and guidance to young families will be lost. Across the ccounty, that figure rises to well over 460,000 lost opportunities.”

Fellow Labour councillor Dawn Smith said: “This was the number one issue on the doorstep in Worthing during the May elections. So many people are utterly horrified with these proposals, and I can see no evidence that they have been listened to in this revised offer.

“These centres are often the very hub of the communities they serve. Young families rely on them for support, advice and social interaction.

“Well over 70 per cent of people who responded to the consultation opposed these closures and wanted their centres saved. Quite how saving just one more center equates to listening, I really don’t know.”

The retained children and family centres would be: Bewbush, Broadfield, Chichester, Durrington, Footprints (Worthing Library), Footprints link site (Lyndhurst Road, Worthing), Haywards Heath, Kingston Buci, Lancing, Littlehampton, Needles (Horsham) and Treehouse (Bognor Regis).