We had the first of the open Consultation meetings here in Oxford on Wednesday.   The experience is best summed up by this excellent letter by Prof. Anne Edwards published in the Oxford Mail on the 20th of November.

Sir -I attended a 6pm OCC Children’s Centres consultation meeting in Osney to, I thought, be listened to by Councillor Tilley. The meeting instead started with a presentation by Jim Leivers, the Director of Children’s Services, saying what we all knew, that Oxfordshire Children’s Centres are among the best in the country. It was followed by an invitation from Councillor Gray to come forward and keep Children’s Centres going as multi-funded community enterprises, which CouncillorTilley later equated to running lending libraries.

Jim Leivers was the only person on the podium – yes there was a podium, lectern and table behind which the “panel” sat – to ask genuine questions in the spirit of consultation. The floor came up with spirited and informed questions, many of which were unanswered by the two council members. These included: has a full economic modelling been undertaken to assess the long-term costs of removing preventative services, closing centres, losing expert staff and writing off the years of investment that have produced these high quality services, Councillor Tilley’s breathtaking response was that she didn’t understand the question. Actually we deduced that the answer was “no”.

A question from a Children’s Centre professional about who will hold the many cases of vulnerability that sit below the threshold for statutory intervention, currently part of her workload, was not answered. The nature of that work and how it frees social workers to focus on child protection did not seem to be understood by the two Council Members. Maybe someone from the local church with a good heart can step in, it is so similar to ordering and stamping books isn’t it? So many more unanswered questions, but I’ll end with just one: why isn’t the whole process being put on hold until after the forthcoming national consultation on Children’s Centres?

I can only hope that future sessions are true consultations where the panel asks questions of the floor and where we don’t witness Councillor Gray haranguing a service user about whether she had visited as many Children’s Centre’s as he has. Finally, could the meetings be held at times when parents are not feeding and settling their children for bed?

Professor Anne Edwards, Rewley Rd, Oxford

The Oxford Mail also provided this further coverage

Oxford Mail 19.11.15 We need to close children’s centres to pay for child protection services say council bosses

The council is now singing the praises of the children’s centres and saying they recognize the important preventative work they do.. .. but they are saying it doesn’t matter(!) as they need to use their funding to pay for children’s social care, which they must provide given their statutory basis.  We argue, however, the county council is failing in its statutory duty under the Childcare Act 2006 to demonstrate children’s centre closures will not adversely affect children.  At the consultation meeting Jim Leivers, Director for Children, Education and Families admitted regarding the closures “you can’t take £8m out of an intervention service and not see an impact… The impact is going to be serious.”   However, the statutory guidance on sure start centres states “Local authorities should not … close an existing children’s centre site in any reorganisation of provision unless they can demonstrate that… the outcomes for children, particularly the most disadvantaged, would not be adversely affected ” (p9, Sure Start children’s centres statutory guidance).

We continue to argue all centres must be protected. Closing the centres is financially short-sighted, and will have a massive adverse impact on many children and families.  Furthermore using voluntary and community groups to take over this service is inappropriate.  You can read more about our arguments in our position statement and consultation FAQ pages.  We’d also like to highlight some excellent recent letters to the Oxford Mail

Oxford Mail 16.11.15 Postcode lottery over children centre provision

Oxford Mail 18.11.15 Now’s time to decide which side of the fence you are on

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