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Bristol City Council may have prevented children’s centres from closing, but services for parents with young children are to be stretched even further

Photo: Brentry and Henbury Children’s Centres

Children’s centres in Bristol are facing “massive” cuts to funding that will lead to staff losses and a stripping back of services for vulnerable families, after councillors voted to pass the budget for 2018/19 on Tuesday.

While it is thought that all 22 children’s centres in the city will stay open, a redesign of the structure will lead to the equivalent of 40 full-time members of staff being cut, the Cable understands.

Bristol City Council will make a total of £2.4 million of cuts to children’s services in 2018/19, as well a further £5 million by 2023. This will include £1.2 million of savings by recommissioning its youth service contracts to third sector providers, and further cuts to children’s social care.

Despite the cuts being voted in by councillors, an amendment to the budget proposed by the Green Party passed, which means an extra £800,000 will be spent on creating two small specialist children’s homes.

“You can keep centres open but the amount of work we do with the families means things will get missed. There’s no way you can keep up that level of work with such reduced staff“

The council’s proposals said the children’s centres redesign would save £750k in the coming year, but senior figures in the sector believe the actual cut could be double that – up to £1.5 million.

The most likely to be hit are family support workers, who provide one-to-one support to families with young children and run both general and more targeted groups at children’s centres.

Kate Fairhurst, a family support worker in north Bristol, described this as a “massive decrease in funding” that will deny families access to support, “which is going to impact on children”.

“It’s a knock-on effect. Losing staff means you’re working with families with higher needs and there’s not enough support for them,” she told the Cable.

She said this year’s cuts would lead to the loss of specialist staff, who work with families suffering from specific problems, such as domestic violence, addiction and postnatal depression.

“Those are the sort of groups that will lose their funding or we won’t be able to put on. There won’t be enough staff on the ground to work with families one-to-one,” she said.

Keeping children’s centres open was a key election pledge for Mayor Marvin Rees in 2016, but questions remain whether they will be able to maintain the same services with less staff.

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“You can keep centres open but the amount of work we do with the families means things will get missed. There’s no way you can keep up that level of work with such reduced staff,“ Fairhurst said.

Children’s services ‘close to the brink’

Analysis by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism recently revealed that children’s services across the country were “dangerously close to the brink”, as more than half of councils plan to cut spending on vulnerable young people.

The planned cuts to funding will cause children’s centres to close, reduced resources for disabled children and less staff on child protection teams.

A survey by the Local Government Information Unit found that nearly a third (31.8%) of councils now say finding money to pay for children’s social care is their biggest immediate concern, a huge leap from just 7% who called it their biggest concern last year.

“With the potential impact on the families with issues around mental health, addiction and criminality, it doesn’t make any sense whatsoever to cut all these services”

The latest funding cuts in Bristol come after children’s centres have already been under-resourced in recent years, which has left family support workers unable to do preventative work with families experiencing less severe problems, placing even further strain on other services.

“There’s less preventative support for people with lower level problems, and we are now having to deal with families with higher needs, with children on child protection plans,” Fairhurst said.

“If you can’t nip things in the bud by putting in the support early, they get worse and then it’s a referral into social care further down the line, so the children are impacted negatively,” she added.

“The less family support work there is, the more pressure it puts on other services, because we won’t be there to do the groundwork with the families. With the potential impact on the families with issues around mental health, drug and alcohol and criminality, it doesn’t make any sense whatsoever to cut all these services.”

A recent joint report by children’s charities said “crippling cuts” to services were hitting prevention and early intervention the hardest, meaning councils are forced to “firefight” problems after they have escalated.

Matthew Reed, chief executive of The Children’s Society, said: “Services that could intervene early to stop problems escalating have been the hardest hit. Whilst more and more children are reaching crisis point, local authorities have found themselves less and less able to respond.”

Fairhurst said that this pressure was being felt in child social care, where only the most severe cases are being dealt with, which means that others are being neglected.

“Even with more serious cases, they have so many families coming through that they are having to close cases that wouldn’t have been thought safe to do so four years ago,“ she added.

Cuts could also hit the daycare services, because understaffing will mean that centres won’t have the resources to stay open for as many hours, she said.

Overall, the council plans to make savings of £34.5 million in the 2018/19 budget, and a further £41.9 million by 2023, on top of the £200 million already cut since 2010.

A statement from Bristol City Council confirmed that no centres would be closing, but said it would be “innappropriate to discuss staffing numbers” while consultations on the redesign were still ongoing.


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