Nearly a quar­ter of cen­tres iden­ti­fied as no longer needed Chil­dren’s cen­tres set to shut in fresh coun­cil cuts

Kentish Express Ashford & District - - Home Help With A Difference - By Nisha Cho­pra

More than 20 chil­dren’s cen­tres across Kent could close un­der new cost-cut­ting pro­pos­als by Kent County Coun­cil.

The au­thor­ity said it had iden­ti­fied 23 cen­tres out of 97 across the county which were no longer needed.

To make up the loss from the clo­sure of those cen­tres, coun­cil chiefs are sug­gest­ing 16 “lead cen­tres” that al­ready pro­vide ser­vices for a larger num­ber of fam­i­lies.

Th­ese would co­or­di­nate smaller cen­tres, which would be linked to­gether.

The big­ger cen­tres, which would be known as Chil­dren’s Cen­tre Plus, would have to work more closely with GPs, schools, vol­un­tary ser­vices and health vis­i­tors so fam­i­lies got the sup­port they needed.

The list of cen­tres that have been pro­posed for clo­sure in clude Cherry Blos­som and Squir­rel Lodge in Ash­ford and New Rom­ney, The Vil­lage or Folke­stone Early Years in Shep­way.

Along with those pro­posed clo­sures, 13 cen­tres could run on a part-time ba­sis, and KCC might de­cide to let other or­gan­i­sa­tions bid to run them. That could mean they were re­lo­cated as well. Th­ese cen­tres in­clude Dym­church, Hythe Bay and Lydd’le Stars in Shep­way.

The au­thor­ity hopes a re­duc­tion in build­ing and man­age­ment costs would save around £1.5m over the next fi­nan­cial year – on top of the £1.4m it has to save by the end of this year.

Cabi­net mem­ber for spe­cial­ist chil­dren’s ser­vices coun­cil­lor Jenny Whit­tle said: “We be­lieve that the ones that should re­main open are those in com­mu­ni­ties with high lev­els of need, but we want to make sure that all par­ents can ac­cess a chil­dren’s cen­tre within a 15-mile drive of their home.

“Most of the cen­tres that we’ve iden­ti­fied as suit­able for clo­sure are those that op­er­ate on a part­time ba­sis.

“We’re also mak­ing a sig­nif­i­cant ex­pan­sion of the healthvis­i­tor work­force in Kent, which will see health vis­i­tors and chil­dren cen­tre staff go­ing into fam­ily homes and see­ing some of the most vul­ner­a­ble par­ents – the least likely to walk through the door of a chil­dren’s cen­tre.

“We’ve reached our de­ci­sion by look­ing at the rate of us­age, and the ma­jor­ity of users are ac­cess­ing cen­tres nearby. So where we know the foot­fall go­ing through chil­dren cen­tres are low, the ma­jor­ity are us­ing other cen­tres and the lev­els of need is low, we be­lieve they’re po­ten­tial can­di­dates for clo­sure.”

KCC has launched a 12-week con­sul­ta­tion on the plans.

To have your say, visit www.­dren­scen­tres

Pic­ture: Alan Smith

Coun­cil­lor Jenny Whit­tle at the in­quiry

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