Village hall and coffee shops suggestion as Shropshire children's centres targeted for closure
Children's centres across Shropshire could close – with parents instead being told to meet in village halls and coffee shops.
Sure Start children's centres are being targeted as part of cuts at Shropshire Council, which is planning to remove permanent bases in a bid to save more than £870,000.
Under the proposed new delivery model, a significant majority of face-to-face work would be done in family homes or in neutral community settings, rather than in buildings run by the council.
The under threat children’s centres, known as Sure Start centres, are located across the county, including at Church Stretton Children's Centre, Ellesmere Children's Centre and Sunflower House in Shrewsbury.
They were intended to be a ‘one-stop shop’ for all children under five and their families. From organised coffee mornings to drop in sessions and social events, the Sure Start system has given support to thousands of parents and their toddlers.
They work with a variety of organisations, including maternity services, health visitors, nurseries, pre-schools, schools, community enablement officers, benefits team, social care, voluntary and not-for-profit agencies to build on existing provision to develop responsive, needs-led local services for families and their communities.
In a consultation document, the council says: "It is likely that the new model, if approved, will result in the closure of a number of children’s centres, but where this is the case full consultation will take place with those affected by the proposal."
It says rather than 'services for all' there would be more targeted services for those who need the most help. This would then lead to a need for fewer buildings, providing a 'cost effective way of working'.
The council adds: "The aim of a new Early Help delivery model would be to bring together services for children and families and work as one to make it simpler and easier for families. This means they will only have one lead worker who will bring in additional expertise if needed."We have looked at how this works across the country and have taken account of what works in counties that are similar to Shropshire.
"This model of Early Help delivery for children and families is already working well in many other parts of the country. We have gathered knowledge and research from these areas to help us develop how we think it could work best here in Shropshire and we know where our most vulnerable families live down to street level.
"The Early Help bases will provide targeted support. Families will be invited to activities or one to one support and these bases will be used to offer group sessions such as parenting courses and partner led sessions for those who need this support. Other group sessions may be run in other community settings, such as schools or village halls, depending on the demand.
"This new service would be modelled around Early Help family workers who will be based in the community so they are closer to where the families who need our support live.
"We recommend that developing a new delivery model will create new opportunities and better benefits for children and families.
"A new model would provide the best value for money and the best opportunity to improve outcomes and reduce demand on children's social care and education services. This would provide a more seamless and joined up approach to working with families as a whole as opposed to individual problems or age groups."
According to the council, the 'proposed delivery model has the potential to deliver £875,000 of savings'.
The results of a six week consultation, which ends on March 6, will be presented to the council's cabinet for a final decision in the spring.