We are a grassroots campaign, with a diversity of views.  This statement has been written via a collective process, however, inevitably it will not completely represent all individuals and opinions within the campaign.

Statement for Save Oxfordshire Children’s Centres Campaign

Background

Oxfordshire County Council plans to close all 44 Children’s centres in Oxfordshire. Save Oxfordshire Children’s Centres Campaign was formed in response to these plans and believes that the current proposals are unacceptable. This statement sets out to justify the campaign’s position.

“Universal services have a key role in identifying children and families who are in need of additional support”.1

‘The true measure of a nation’s standing is how well it attends to its children – their health and safety, their material security, their education and socialization, and their sense of being loved, valued, and included in the families and societies into which they are born.’ 2

Children’s centres play a central role in supporting children, their parents and families to ensure all children have the best possible start in life. That is why Children’s centres should be a respected and valued part of our society – and available to all. 3 They host a wide range of services and make them accessible in a way that makes sense to parents and carers. Children’s centres were designed to be universal, free at the point of use, attuned to the needs of the most vulnerable families in our society. It was designed this way because anything less fails families. Children’s centres facilitate universal, non-threatening, expert and peer-to-peer support to families during the crucial early years of a child’s life.

Universal access to services is important for several reasons, firstly it prevents children and parents falling through arbitrary gaps; secondly, universal access has a robust evidence-base over a period of time demonstrating high quality and cost-effectiveness. 4-9 Even conservative financial institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) have dismissed the false option of choosing between nothing or narrow targeting of services as incompatible with economic growth and social cohesion.10

Services provided at an early stage prevent problems developing and bring greater benefits than interventions later in people’s lives. The Sutton Trust, in a meta-analysis of the benefits of early intervention,11 suggests a gain of an additional five months progress, on average, for a child by the age of five with the greatest gains for children from low income families – not families in crisis, just low income. Increasing numbers of families will fall into the low income bracket as a result of this government’s significant reduction to the welfare state.

An evaluation undertaken by the Department for Education showed that on average from birth to the age of four, programmes cost approximately £4,860 per child.12 By the age of five, this provision had already delivered additional economic benefits of up to £557 per child mainly because the child’s parents are more likely to have moved into paid work. Both individual families, and society as a whole, benefit. Two-thirds of the value of these benefits is received by families in the form of higher incomes and one-third by taxpayers in terms of higher tax receipts and lower benefit payments.

Research undertaken by Oxford University on behalf of the Department for Education13 demonstrated that Children’s centres are successful in reaching the very children who need support; the children they deal with are more deprived than the national average and other children in their local authority. The centres have been successful in responding to this deprivation. The areas in which Children’s centres are located have seen a marked fall in child poverty levels in recent years, a larger improvement than the corresponding local authorities and England as a whole over the same period. The improvement was most marked in areas with the greatest level of deprivation. These are the areas where the closure of Children’s centres to all but ‘targeted’ families would have the most detrimental effect. In the areas in which Children’s centres were located the number of children achieving a ‘good’ level of development at the Early Years Foundation Stage also increased, with a steady year on year increase between 2008/09 and 2011/12.

Children’s centres are successful in reaching a high proportion of families across the diverse population in their areas. A substantial majority of families who had access to a Children’s centre in their locality registered there and the majority of families in those areas use the services provided.

Position in relation to the Councils Proposal to Consult

According to the Childcare Act 2006, the Council has a duty to provide sufficient provision of Children’s centres to meet local need as defined by parents, prospective parents and young children.

We the parents, prospective parents and young children of the locality define the local needs as follows:

  • In both urban and rural areas, the provision of peer-to-peer support alongside non-threatening expertise from centre staff to support parents with:
    • Feeding their babies, toddlers and children
    • Identification, prevention and recovering from postnatal depression
    • Understanding child development and appropriate nurturing strategies
    • Inspiration for how to play and live well with your child
    • Safe space for stigmatised parents (teen, lone, low income etc)
    • Bright, engaging and stimulating play spaces with guidance as when wanted
  • In both urban and rural areas, a one stop shop for:
    • Childcare services, transition to nursery and then school
    • Access to adult education
    • Access to work
    • Access to government entitlements
    • Access to expert advice on housing, managing a family budget
    • Access to sexual health and family planning
    • Access to healthy lifestyle education
    • Access to support for sexual and domestic violence

Therefore we:

  • Urge the Council to reject austerity measure instructions from central government as vigorously as possible
  • Reject the three proposals from the Council as we believe that they are designed to meet the need to make cuts rather than to meet the needs of children and parents. The proposed changes are not justified with robust evidence and are therefore irrational. We believe that the children and families of Oxfordshire deserve evidence based policy not ideologically driven austerity.

 

Were we to pretend the cuts were rationally justified we would reject the Council’s three proposals for the following reasons:

  1. Insufficient evidence to demonstrate that savings projected will materialise.
  2. No impact analysis on the direct and indirect costs in the short, medium and long term to families, NHS Trusts, Social Services, Schools, Police and other services.
  3. Failure to identify how local needs will be identified nor met under the proposed changes

1.Insufficient evidence to demonstrate that savings projected will materialise.

Especially when, as stated in the Cabinet Advisory Group report, the proposed changes will generate costs of approximately £3 million in redundancies. 1 There is no consideration of costs to the state generated by the redundancies of these staff, nor retraining should this be implemented.

Significant distances would need to be covered for outreach work from the small number of Children and Family Centres created. The Council provide no details or evidence of consideration of the costs incurred for both families and providers.

Some capital grant funding will need to be repaid as a result of decommissioning some of the centres. There is no information on what proportion of the 44 CCs will be decommissioned at a loss and what the magnitudes of these costs are.

2. No impact analysis on the direct and indirect costs in the short, medium and long term to families, NHS Trusts, Social Services, Schools, Police and other services.

Health and education stakeholders believe the changes will lead to an increased workload with resulting increases in costs. 1 There is no evidence the Council has considered how much these costs would be.

The Council has responsibility for Public Health with a vision to improve and protect health and wellbeing, and improve the health of the poorest fastest.14 The Public Health Outcomes Framework 2013-2016, lays out indicators to be collected at the national and local level to understand how well we are improving and protecting health. We believe that many of these indicators will be negatively affected by the closures of the Children’s centres in Oxfordshire. Their indicators are: breastfeeding rates, child development at age 2 – 2.5, non-accidental injury rates, infant mortality, tooth decay in the under 5s, and readiness for school.

Much of the costs saved by closing the Children’s centres will only be incurred elsewhere, some at greater expense. The demand will transfer to other services that will not be able to deliver them as efficiently. Community midwives, health visitors and GPs are already busy with an immense workload, and the closure of Children’s centres will lead to increased demands on them due to the loss of services provided at the Children’s centres such as prenatal talks, breastfeeding support, weaning advice and healthy life and cookery courses. The mental health of parents will suffer when both the peer and professional support at the Children’s centres is removed, putting further pressure on local health services.

3. Failure to identify how local needs will be identified nor met under the proposed changes

According to the Childcare Act 2006 the Council has a duty to “identify parents or prospective parents in the authority’s area who would otherwise be unlikely to take advantage of early childhood services that may be of benefit to them and their young children and to encourage those parents or prospective parents to take advantage of those services”.

In the Cabinet Advisory Group report,1 the Council states that the universal services they are proposing to remove “have a key role in identifying children and families who are in need of additional support”.

The Council has a duty to ensure that CC’s and their services are within reasonable reach of all families with young children in urban and rural areas, taking into account distance and availability of transport. The council acknowledge there is a risk of marginalising rural families (with the risk increasing as a result of plans to axe subsidies for rural bus routes) but urban families will also be impacted.

There is no information on who will be able to access the services if any of the three proposals is implemented i.e. what the definition of “vulnerable” will be. Without this knowledge, local service users are unable to demonstrate the impact on their needs and make an informed decision about whether to reject or accept any of the proposed changes.

References

1. Oxfordshire County Council Cabinet Advisory Group. (2015). Recommendations of the Cabinet Advisory Group on Children’s Early Intervention Services.
2. UNICEF. (2007). Child poverty in perspective: An overview of child well-being in rich countries.
3. Marmot, M., Allen, J., Goldblatt, P., Boyce, T., McNeish, D., Grady, M., & Geddes, I. (2010). Fair society, healthy lives: strategic review of health inequalities in England post 2010.
4. Bynner, J. (2001). Childhood Risks and Protective Factors in Social Exclusion. London: Institute of Education.
5. Farrington, D. (1999). Explaining and Preventing Crime: The Globalization of Knowledge. The American Society of Criminology.
6. Sylva, K., Melhuish, E., Sammons, P., Siraj-Blatchford, I. and Taggart, B. (2004). The Effective Provision of Preschool Education (EPPE) Project: Final Report. London: Department for Education and Skills.
7. Department of Education. (2010) Business Plan;
8. Melhuish, E., Belsky, J., MacPherson, K., & Cullis, A. (2010). The quality of group childcare settings used by 3-4 year old children in Sure Start local programme areas and the relationship with child outcomes: Research report DFE-RR068. London: DfE. ISBN 978-1-84775-828-6. 
9. Department for Education, NatCen (2009-2015) Evaluation of Children’s Centres in England. 
10, International Monetary Fund (October 2012). World Economic Outlook – Coping with High Dept and Sluggish Growth.
11. Higgins, S., Katsipataki, M., Kokotsaki, D., Coleman, R., Major, L.E., & Coe, R. (2013). The Sutton Trust-Education Endowment Foundation Teaching and Learning Toolkit. London: Education Endowment Foundation
12. Department for Education (2011). National Evaluation of Sure Start local programmes: An economic perspective. DFE-RB073 ISBN 978-1-84775-986-3.
13, Sylva, K., Goff, J., Eisenstadt, N., Smith, T., Hall, J., & Evangelou, M. (2015). Organisation, services and reach of children’s centres.
14. Billeter, J. (2013). Public Health Outcomes Framework.