Two Eastbourne children’s centres could close

Old Town Children's Centre, currently run at Ocklynge Junior School in Eastbourne, could close
Old Town Children's Centre, currently run at Ocklynge Junior School in Eastbourne, could close

Children’s centres in Old Town and Hampden Park could be closed with services relocated elsewhere as part of cost-cutting proposals.

East Sussex County Council has agreed to consult the public on its draft children’s services early help strategy for ten weeks from May to July.

Hampden Park children's centre is based in the health centre (photo by Google Maps Street View).

Hampden Park children's centre is based in the health centre (photo by Google Maps Street View).

As a result of the strategy £2.6m would be saved from the council’s early help budget by 2020/21.

Access to services would happen through a single point of advice and delivered in family homes and through a reduced network of 12 children’s centres and four youth centres as well as community venues where appropriate.

But as part of the draft proposals 14 children’s centres would close including those based at Ocklynge Junior School, Victoria Drive, and Hampden Park Health Centre in Brodrick Close.

Alan Shuttleworth, opposition Lib Dem spokesman, said: “These proposals not only close children’s centres across East Sussex but also make massive cuts into the early help service which help to keep children safe.

“Over 4,000 of the most vulnerable families rely on the Keywork service and many others access the early help services for help and advice. Preventative work stops things worsening, helps families and vulnerable people, and reduces the need to spend much larger sums in the future as the problems escalate.”

These locations are seen as ‘less suitable for future services’. In all the places families would continue to receive keywork services in their homes and from nearby keywork hubs.

Family support services would also continue to be provided in these communities, nearby children’s centres, council or community buildings.

The council will seek expressions of interest from other organisations in a position to take over any of these 14 children’s centres.

But if this is not forthcoming the proposal is for these centres to close.

John Ungar, Lib Dem county councillor for Old Town, said: “Children’s centres such as in Old Town, are part of really important support for local communities, and help families and children.“

Meanwhile fellow Lib Dem Colin Swansborough, who represents Hampden Park, drew attention to the excellent work being done by Hampden Park children’s centre and other centres threatened with closure.

He said: “We intend to continue to fight to maintain these services and support our children’s centres.”

The strategy would also withdraw funding for ‘lower level preventative services’ to focus on the most vulnerable families, reducing management and admin support in the remaining children’s centres.

There would be a reduction in the crèche offer within children’s centres and withdrawing from open access non-targeted youth groups unless external funding is available to cover the full costs.

According to an officers’ report: “Children’s centres are as much about making appropriate integrated services available as about providing premises in particular geographical areas, however, councils should ensure that children’s centres 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 guidance also provides that councils should not close an existing children’s centre site unless they can demonstrate that, where they decide to close a children’s centre site, the outcomes for children, particularly the most disadvantaged, would not be adversely affected and that the starting point should therefore be a presumption against closure.”

Services would still be available in Eastbourne at the Shinewater Children’s Centre in Milfoil Drive and Devonshire Children’s Centre in Seaside.

The lead member for children and families agreed to put the early help strategy out for consultation at a meeting earlier today (Monday May 20).

Cllr Shuttleworth added: “These cuts to vulnerable families and children will reduce mental health support at a time when referrals are on the increase. Evidence shows that mental ill health, substance misuse and domestic abuse can escalate and lead to emotional abuse and neglect of children.”