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Derbyshire council to close ten Children’s Centres as it targets possible care home closures

Tuesday, 30 April 2024 16:02

By Jon Cooper, Local Democracy Reporter

Protesters lined the steps of Derbyshire council’s headquarters calling for the authority not to close ten Children’s Centres and to rethink its plans to close up to 11 elderly care homes as part of strategies aimed at overcoming an estimated budget deficit of nearly £40m.

But the Conservative-led county council approved the closure of ten Children’s Centre buildings during its Cabinet meeting on April 29, at County Hall, in Matlock, with over 100 potential job cuts with the ‘disestablishment’ of its existing Early Help teams and Children’s Centres services to meet a £3.9m savings target.

Public consultations were also agreed at the meeting as the council continues to consider the future of eleven care residential homes as well as day opportunity services for elderly people and the possible withdrawal of discretionary grant funding for community and voluntary groups.

Opposition Labour Group Leader, Cllr Joan Dixon, said: “In 2010 when Labour came out of power there were 56 Children’s Centres throughout the whole of Derbyshire and this will leave us with just 12.

“One of the contradictions with this report by making these cuts and disestablishing the Early Help team will mean more children in Derbyshire are going to be falling into crisis.”

The council’s Cabinet agreed to reduce its 22 Children Centres to 12 with ten closures at centres in Holme Hall and Old Whittington in Chesterfield, Alfreton, Ironville, Langley Mill, Bolsover, Hadfield, Gamesley, Matlock, and Charnos in Ilkeston.

It also agreed that further funding for the Early Help Development Service should not be provided.

But it has agreed to retain 12 centres including: Heanor, Glossop, Fairfield at Buxton, Brimington near Chesterfield, Birdholme in Chesterfield, Alice’s View at North Wingfield, Shirebrook, Creswell, Eckington, Cotmanhay at Ilkeston, Long Eaton and Woodville.

The authority previously reduced the number of Children’s Centres in 2018 from 56 to 22 and the council has stated the latest planned closures will be at locations that are either less well-used or where they are close to other larger centres.

It has stated the council aims to refocus the services to offer a response to statutory expectations combined with some practical family support and services for children from birth to five-years-old.

It claims that like many authorities across the country Derbyshire County Council is facing budgetary pressures far greater than experienced before due to factors beyond its control and it needs to save £3.9m from the Early Help and Children’s Centres’ budgets.

But the council’s opposition Labour Group has claimed that numerous health and education organisations have pointed out that the changes risk increasing the council’s costs as more families are likely to end up in crisis with children taken into care.

Opposition Labour Group Deputy Leader, Cllr Ruth George, said: “Any child needing to be taken into care is a tragedy with a lifelong impact on that child and their family, which councils have a duty to prevent wherever safely possible.

“Our children’s social workers who deal with children at higher risk are already working flat out, and will struggle to deal with any higher workload from families who would previously have been supported by Early Help staff.”

Cllr George added: “With the rapid increases in children’s care costs, those costs will soon place Derbyshire in even greater financial jeopardy.”

The UNISON union claims the Children Centre closures could mean about 132 job cuts and it feels that vulnerable youngsters and their families are being let down with these cuts to children’s services.

UNISON East Midlands regional organiser Dave Ratchford told campaigners that the cuts to services that stop children falling into tragic patterns will be devastating for Derbyshire.

Mr Ratchford added that a petition against the Children Centre closures now included well over 1,000 names which was a tribute to the people of Derbyshire and an indictment upon the council.

He previously stated: “It is hard not to see this as a pattern of incredible failure and absence of vision at the council at the moment.

“They’re telling us that they’re going to maintain the same service as last year – but they’re cutting 60per cent of the staff dealing with the most vulnerable families and children in need.”

The council’s changed children services aim to include parenting assessments, family supervised sessions, tracking and supporting school leavers, group work with vulnerable youngsters, family help, support for other organisations, parenting programmes and support for expectant parents and families and for children from birth to five-years-old.

Derbyshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Children and Families, Cllr Julie Patten, told the meeting the council is facing unprecedented financial pressures with demand for social care support and spiralling costs of private placements for children in its care and it needs to balance its budget.

She added that the council will do all it can to support those at risk from losing their jobs and she stressed that 12 Children’s Centres will remain open and the support offered to families in need of intervention will be a priority and that dealing more with families in their own homes is better than in buildings and there will be an additional £1m of support funding available.

Derbyshire County Council Leader, Cllr Barry Lewis, has repeatedly called for urgent action from the Government to provide extra funding to deal with the ‘runaway’ costs of looking after children in care while dealing with profit-making private providers.

Cllr Lewis said: “This leads to spending millions and millions of pounds more than we need to spend and that has led us to have to make these very difficult decisions.”

The council Cabinet also agreed to launch a public consultation into its 16 elderly residential care homes and possible plans to close nine or 11 of these along with eight older people day centres in a bid to save £5.2 million and further help balance its budget with a new focus on services for people with dementia and their carers.

This comes two years after the authority closed seven care homes in 2022 despite widespread opposition with a campaign throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

Care homes earmarked for possible closure include: Briar Close, Borrowash; Bennerley Fields, Ilkeston; Castle Court, Swadlincote; Florence Shipley, Heanor; The Grange, Eckington; Lacemaker Court, Long Eaton; The Leys, Ashbourne; New Bassett House, Shirebrook; Rowthorne, Swanwick; Thomas Colledge, Bolsover, and Whitestones, at Chapel-en-le-Frith.

And the day centres which face possible closure include: Blackwell Day Centre, Blackwell; Eccles Fold Day Centre, Chapel-en-le-Frith; Fabrick Day Services, Hilton; Hasland Resource Centre, at Hasland, Chesterfield; Jubilee Centre, New Mills; Queens Court, Buxton; Shirebrook Resource Centre; And Valley View Day Centre, at Bolsover.

Heanor Town Mayor Paul Jones said it was like a ‘thunder bolt’ when he learned the Florence Shipley care home might be closed down in the near future and he feels ‘devastated’ because he has a long history with the home.

Heanor resident Alison Warner, whose elderly mother is a Florence Shipley resident with Alzheimer’s Disease, said it was a ‘massive shock’ to learn the home could be closed especially after her mother has benefited so much from the service and she fears her condition will deteriorate if the home is closed.

Amber Valley’s Labour Parliamentary candidate Linsey Farnsworth, who attended the campaign protest, said she was really concerned about the changes to Children’s Centre services and the proposed changes for care homes.

Ms Farnsworth said: “Amber Valley has a choice of losing one or two residential care homes and that is no choice at all.”

Cllr Natalie Hoy, Cabinet Member for Adult Care, told the Cabinet meeting more people want to remain in their own homes so there has been a decline in the number of people who want to stay in care homes and there is growing demand for specialised care services for those with dementia.

During the same meeting, the council’s Cabinet also agreed to launch public consultations into possible plans to cease Adult Social Care funding grants for 30 community and voluntary groups and to stop Corporate Services and Transformation Grants for a further 20 groups in a bid to save money.

It was also agreed by the Cabinet that £1m of funding will be transferred per year from the Public Health grant to Children’s Services to help preventative support interventions from Children’s Centres between 2025 and 2027.

Residents, families, staff and partner agencies will also be able to engage in a further approved public consultation into the proposed council recovery of contributions towards care policy and a child’s maintenance from any person liable to contribute.

The council has already agreed to consider finalising a number of wider saving proposals to meet its budget deficit of over £39m for the 2024-25 financial year after it has blamed its financial plight on external economic influences.

Agreed changes to the council’s Early Help Services and Children’s Centres come at a time when the council is also considering ‘re-purposing’ two care centre services for disabled children  – The Getaway, in Ilkeston, and The Outback, in Chesterfield – which have recently become subject to an extended public consultation.

Derbyshire County Council is also considering other proposals under a public consultation that could see a number of Day Opportunity and Short Break support services discontinued for adults with learning disabilities with the possible closure of related centres.

The council, like many others nationwide, has suffered enormously from high inflation rates, the cost of living crisis, uncertainties with Government funding, rising costs and rising demands on services, and the impact of costly pay awards.

 

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