Bucks County Council (BCC) is closing 19 children's centres today as it switches to a new family support service program which launches on Monday 2 September.
Currently, Buckinghamshire has 35 centres specifically for 0-5 year olds, but this will reduce to 16 centres that will cater for 0-19 year olds (or 0-25 year olds in the case of special needs) on Monday as part of a £3.1m cost saving scheme across children's and youth services.
Previously, a legal challenge had been brought against BCC's decision but this was lost at the High Court last month.
A prominent campaigner to save the children's centres, Alka Dass, told us that while she is now prepared to work with the council to make the new system work, she has some serious concerns ahead of its launch. Speaking to us today, she said:
“I'm happy to support them so that we can get people going to the family centres, but they need to have some form of communication strategy because yesterday when I spoke to people they said they didn't know what was going on.”
With regards to the timetables published on the council's family information service website, Ms Dass said:
“Looking at the timetable, it's really bare. I would like to understand if this is a work in progress or is this it? One lady has just messaged me to say she has nowhere to go now, and her child is autistic.”
We contacted the BCC cabinet member for Children's Services, Warren Whyte, to ask him about Ms Dass's concerns, and he informed us that a press release from the council would arrive any minute to address them. We have since learnt that this will in fact be sent out on Monday. However, Mr Whyte also said:
“I think she has a misunderstanding of what the service is about.”
We asked him specifically about whether the timetable was complete or a work in progress and he replied:
“It's day one of a brand new service, it's a starter for ten, and I would hope that over time the service will evolve.”
The current children's centres provide vital services for children and parents such as early intervention for post-natal depression and anxiety, teaching parents how to play with their child, weaning advice, lessons on how to eat solids, potty training, parents as first teachers, reading development, speech and language therapy, and breast feeding advice.”