The Caterpillar and other Suffolk Childrens Centres

My response as your County Councillor  to County’s consultation on their intention to change/close Suffolk Childrens centres. I emailed my response because I had reservations about the format and design of the online consultation, as I told them in my opening paragraph. My other concerns and suggestions:

Firstly I want to put on record my personal disappointment at the way this Childrens Centre consultation disenfranchises the residents of Woodbridge and its surrounding area.
When this consultation was first announced – in July 2019 – I publicly asked the (then) Cabinet member for an assurance that people in Woodbridge would be ‘properly’ consulted – eg be offered real options for the future of their centre, because the proposals before Cabinet offered no option for the Woodbridge Children’s Centre but closure. You cannot consult on a fait accompli, I pointed out.
My concerns were dismissed by the Cabinet member with the platitude that the people of Woodbridge “would have every opportunity to respond at the consultation.”  Respond to what? Like the original proposals, this ‘consultation’ offers no option for the Caterpillar Centre apart from closure. As I said, you cannot consult on a fait accompli.

Secondly, this consultation, in its online and paper format, makes it difficult for someone to respond other than as a Childrens Centre stakeholder. Why is this?
The Childrens Centres are funded by the people of Suffolk whether they use them or not, and we should none of us be excluded from having a view. Equally importantly, the centres are benefitting us all. It is well established that money invested specifically in under-5 services creates the greatest social benefit £ for £ later on. If we widen the remit of such centres we may dilute the impact. This will be felt – and paid for – by everyone in Suffolk.
Separately, but just as important, it is a shame that the consultation seems targeted towards service users who, as such, will be inclined to support an “expansion” of services. This seems to be missing the value of a public consultation.
Thirdly, Suffolk residents should not be forced to choose between nurseries and children’s centres – both are services that the council should be providing, and one should not be sacrificed to provide the other.
Fourthly, with this consultation one is left wondering whether the tail is wagging the dog. It seems that because SCC has acquired a 0-19 service contract, it is redesigning services to match the funding – and that in order to do so most easily, SCC is endeavouring to conflate and confine 3 distinct needs into a one-size-fits-all model:
– Early years support
– Family support ( which includes
– post-16 support)
Why do this? SCC has offered no explanation as to why any reduction in the number of children’s centres is necessary. The needs of 5-19 are clearly different from 0-5. (Indeed the needs of 5-11, 11-16 and 16 plus are likely to be significantly different from each other). It is not clear from the consultation documents how these numerous and varied needs will be met by a single Family Hub. What is wrong with retaining ALL the current Children’s Centres, and then bolting on the family services and post-16 support to these centres where appropriate? (Appropriate being the point: It would seem that eg whole-family interventions might sit comfortably in Children’s centre premises while more complex issues eg. county lines, mental health are always likely to need individualĺy tailored solutions.)
Finally, coming back specifically to Woodbridge Caterpillar Centre.
It is clear to local Woodbridge residents that the real reasons for closure are not the lack of need but the practical ones of
a) the short remainder of the lease of the current building (2 years?) and
b) the fact there is no alternative accommodation in Wòodbridge.
This is ironic, as Suffolk County Council pulled down Woodbridge Youth and Community Centre a couple of years ago. Many young people’s facilities used by SCC were housed in this building.
(I must declare an interest here, as, prompted by extreme local need, I am chairing a CIO (Jetty Lane CIO) to rebuild this provision.)
I suggest that SCC consider working with Jetty Lane as a possible new venue for the children’s centre– otherwise there will be no Family Hub in the Woodbridge and Wilford area, despite clear evidence of rural deprivation and needs

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