Liden, Eldene and Park South councillor, Fay Howard, delivered an impassioned plea to save Swindon’s five remaining Children’s Centres at the Swindon Full Council Meeting on the 25th February. The Tories had proposed to close all of Swindon’s Children’s Centres. The Labour Group presented a budget amendment to retain the funding to keep all of Swindon’s Children’s Centres open, however this was rejected by the majority Conservative Group.
Children’s Centres support parents and help to provide our children with a secure future, providing services such as Child and family health services; antenatal and postnatal care; breastfeeding support for parents; speech and language therapy for young children; and assistance for families with a child who has a disability.
In what led to a standing ovation from some in the chamber, Councillor Fay Howard delivered an emotional speech, which can be found below:
Fay Howard Speech
It will be no surprise that I feel the need to stand & speak up for CC's. I've emailed council officers & Cllr Foley numerous times & I am thankful to them for responding with the answers I sought. If there was a way I could see to stop these closures I have tried it.
We need to apologise, in fact I think we all need to apologise we have let Swindon's children down. On our watch CC's stopped being as efficient as they should be and this has led may have led to their demise or at least it has given this Conservative administration arguments to end them from 13/14 to 2015:
• our reach to pregnant teenagers dropped from nearly 60% to less than half that 26.8%
• our reach to children living with DV dropped from 54.5% by nearly half
• our reach for our children under CIN OR CPP dropped by over 17%
That's in 18 months.
We dropped to just 28.3% of the targeted groups attending any Children Centre in 2015. The Children’s Trust board had ended, we had a O&S with a huge agenda and CC's didn't even come up there, only once in that 18 months were Children Centre's publically reviewed in a Q&A to the lead member at a Scrutiny meeting in Jan 2015.
Rest assured I will be watching these figures from now on, expect to see them asked for regularly. With the huge risk that YOU are taking WE cannot afford to take our eye off the ball now.
I have a fear, a real fear, that things are going to get worse. This government report that sadly came out December 2015 after perhaps the axe was set over our Children Centre's acknowledges this, as did conversations I've had that recruitment is hard around uncertainty. Though we did not pick up on our lowering outreach, this report highlighted The impact of children’s centres: studying the effects of children's centres in promoting better outcomes for young children and their families.
It acknowledges that Children Centre's that were maintaining or increasing services rather than experiencing cuts and restructuring had better outcomes for mothers and family
Guess which ones we were?
Our Children Centre’s had already fallen victim to cuts and is was hard to recruit staff for an uncertain future. The report also states that Children Centre's can have positive effects on outcomes, especially on family functioning that affects the quality of parenting, and Children Centre'S are highly valued by parents.
Closing CC's will not be cost effective not only for us as a borough but for those we work alongside supporting our families. Relationships that have taken years to build between all those involved in those Under 5's will be lost. Voluntary groups who run support such as breastfeeding, healthy cooking, from our childrens centres ALL GONE.
Our own council strategies spell out that we need Children Centre’s for joint working.
The Children Young People's Early Support Strategy says the Join up services for children and families including linking children’s centres and increasing the number of Family Nurses and Health Visitors
Speech & Language says all our Speech & Language therapists work alongside. health visitors, school staff, social workers, teachers of the deaf, school nurses, Children’s Centres and pre-school settings
There's going to be a lot of strategies needing to be re-written!
I would ask that you reverse now while you still can the choice you're making on Children Centre's?
How are you going to recruit ? Children Centre’s themselves struggled to recruit. The planned support worker to support the East after Eldene Children Centre went, took significantly longer than anticipated. There has been no groups meeting in Eldene AT ALL since that Children Centre was taken away.
Volunteers? I'm not against volunteers. I stood with the well-known national family support charity HOMESTART which runs with volunteers when it closed in Swindon in August 2010 after the council withdrew its funding.
Cllr Renard said then
“There are 14 children centres within the Swindon borough, which provide a range of services catering for families with children aged up to five. Parents currently using Swindon Home Start….are more than welcome to access these services.“
It didn't take long!
On your Children Centre’s consultation 1/3 said they couldn't volunteer due to existing commitments. The consulation also highlights peoples fear that there's unrealistic expectation being placed on volunteers who it's anticipated will be supported to do the work the CC's have been doing.
Enough from me, what about the users of Children Centre's
'I went to the childrens centre when my daughter was a baby. I moved to swindon just after she was born and didnt know anybody so got very lonely and suffered with depression i started goin to bumps and babes at the childrens centre and that really helped being around others and making friends and my daughter got the chance to play with other babies which also helped when starting nursery and school '
'I had a terrible time after the birth of my youngest son. I suffered depression, which quickly worsened and was accompanied by psychosis. I was terrified. I did see a health visitor now and again, but it was Drove family centre where I gained the help and support that I needed. They were fantastic with both me and my children. They are also provided valuable support for my son who has additional needs'
‘I found breastmates fantastic support and help when i breast fed my son and would have given up breast feeding in the first couple of months if it wasnt for the groups great support and advice .I have also been on courses held at the children’s centre which helped build my confidence'
Finally, our budget shows there is another way. At the start of the consultation we were told by the lead member that it was either Children Centre’s or health visitors. The parents who use our Children’s Centres face budget pressures often.
They know what's it's like to see benefits cut and have to manage with less money, let me tell you how they manage things…
They don’t choose between their children as you have done with the Health Visitors & Children Centres to decide which to feed. They go without themselves
If we were running this council we would not be closing Children’s Centres, these hold our very future as a town. We would use our reserves, cut cabinet posts,
have slightly less fancy communication. We would go without ourselves to give our children what they need…
PLEASE think again, there's still time….
We need our Children’s Centres.