COUNCIL chiefs at Wakefield have voted to consult the public on proposals to close the majority of children’s centres in the district.
More than 50 protestors gathered outside County Hall this morning (Tues July 8) ahead of a meeting of the council’s cabinet committee.
The meeting was told the local authority, which must save £185m from its budgets by 2020, currently runs 23 children’s centres across the district.
A report to the meeting recommended that just six main children’s centres are kept and re-named Integrated Early Help Hubs.
Coun Olivia Rowley, Wakefield Council’s cabinet member for children and young people, told the meeting: “This is the start of a lengthy consultation. We haven’t made any decisions yet. We will negotiate and talk and consult with as many people as we can. It will go to the overview and scrutiny committe in November and decision will be made in December.”
The hubs would be at current children’s centres at Airedale, Castleford; Oakhill at Featherstone; Pomfret in Pontefract; Cedars at Hemsworth; Sunbeam at Lupset and Castle at Sandal, Wakefield.
Three centres linked to the hubs would be Acorn at Whitwood Pinmoor at Eastmoor and Stanley at Wakefield.
The report recommends that the remaining 14 children’s centre buildings are transferred to their associated schools.
The current children’s centres under threat of closure and buildings transferred to schools are Oakhill at Featherstone; Butterflies at Normanton; Sharlston; Sycamores at Knottingley; Orchard Head at Pontefract; Sunflowers at South Elmsall; Upton; Little Owls at South Kirkby; Michaelmas at Flanshaw; Maypole at Ossett; Small Steps, Wrenthorpe; Apple Tree, Horbury; Havercroft and Forest Wood, Crigglestone.
Among protestors who gathered outside County Hall this morning was mum-of-three Michelle Massey, 38, who uses Havercroft Children’s Centre.
She said: “It would be heartbreaking if it closed. It is a lifeline for a lot of families. Havercroft is in quite a deprived area and people don’t travel, the children would suffer if they close the centre.
“I don’t think the council realise how important this centre is. It is the heart of our community.”
Mum-of-two Sharn Graham, 34, regularly uses Sharlston Children’s Centre.
She said: “I was in tears when I heard it could close. It is so important to us. If they close it, where are we going to go, what are we going to do?”
Council chiefs say the Integrated Early Help Hubs will increase the range of services families can access in their area so that support is available from pre-birth to 25 years old.
Coun Rowley said: “We need to be more innovative and creative in the way we deliver services for children and their families across the district.
“We spend a significant amount of our budget on the management and administration of these buildings, in addition to overhead costs. Our aim is to redistribute our resources so we can offer a more flexible and accessible service to those that need it most.
“This strengthened and coordinated approach will help us to intervene at the earliest possible opportunity to tackle emerging problems, whether this is in the early years of a child’s life, even during pregnancy, or at a later stage in their life.” If the report is approved, a public consultation will be held from July 15 until October.
Council chiefs say the introduction of an Early Help Offer will mean that services are targeted at those most in need and services will be delivered from locations which are accessible to families, including home visits.
Coun Rowley said parents and expectant parents will be able to register with any Wakefield children’s centre, giving more choice about which centre and services they use.
A public consultation will be held from July 15 until October.