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June O'Sullivan, LEYF CEO

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A Call to Arms: Save Our Children’s Centres

We are already halfway through January, having returned from a long break to the order and pattern that work gives us. We have cheerily greeted everyone with a Happy New Year, but will it be?

As an optimistic person, I try to see challenges as opportunities, although at times this takes a huge leap of imagination and positive energy.  This is especially true now, with the doom and gloom harbingers out in force.  Of course, the press itself is less than helpful, setting the seeds for dissatisfaction and disorder; but in doing so, the more important issues all too easily risk being crowded out by a sense of general dismay.

But where to begin?  Without a doubt, saving Children’s Centres… Already this month, I have received impassioned telephone calls and frustrated emails from people about their local authorities not only halving Children’s Centres, but with limited consultation and no apparent plan.

I visited a small Centre in West London myself this week, only to then hear they were to be closed.  This particular school-based site had the complete support of both parents and head-teacher, and the team itself was coherent and robust about the benefits to local families.  They were equally realistic about the need to shift some ways of working and extend their services out.  Cuts aside, I simply cannot believe that local authorities are unable to afford an investment of £100k per annum in their multi-million pound budget (surely little more than the salary for one over-inflated management post).

Elsewhere, I attended the inaugural Home Start Lecture, where Professor Michael Marmot spoke about health inequalities and the investment needed to secure a more Fair Society, Healthy Lives for children. I asked the panel’s designated Cabinet Minister, Francis Maude, why in the light of all the evidence for preventative and community based services, Children Centres were closing. He simply fudged the issue by reasserting the Government position, namely how they were champions of Children Centres, but it was down to local authorities to make the decisions.

I thought of a recent book I read called Nudge and wondered how we might get the Government to give a nudge.  It’s true, we don’t want another micro-managing government (our last experience of this was unhelpful enough), but now baby and bathwater come to mind. In the meantime, Children Centres are closing and the consequences will come back to haunt us.  Will we ever learn?

Our colleauges over at 4Children made a great start last year with their Shout Out campaign, but I personally believe the time has come for us to finally wake up and actually do something about this emerging catastrophe for children and families, especially across the capital. We need to mobilise ourselves and take action as a determined network of passionate and committed Children Centre professionals.

It’s true that some Children’s Centres are better than others and some will have to go.  But that doesn’t mean reduced budgets cannot be resolved in a way that is planned, purposeful and sensitive to local communities.  Slash and burn is too random (and lazy) an approach.  As the picture of cuts continues to take shape, it seems incumbent on us to hatch a much-needed plan for survival, sustainability and reshaping; and one finally based around an intergenerational model.  We need to snatch the Children’s Centre baton and lead the process ourselves.

The time for talk may well be over, but please do comment and tweet us!  This is more than a nudge; this is a call to arms.