CHILDREN’S centre campaigners have warned families could lose out on emotional, financial and mental health support if proposed cuts go ahead.
Oxfordshire County Council is consulting on plans which could see all 44 of the centres close and be replaced with eight family and resource centres.
The authority claims this would save £2m and it is one of a number of options being considered.
It comes as the council looks to make a further £52.5m savings, on top of cuts already planned.
But campaigner Amy Herbert, a 25-year-old mum-of-three, said the service provided by children’s centres extended beyond being a place for children to play.
The Banbury resident said: “I have been using them for three years. Before I used them, I had been in and out of depression for years and they have completely transformed our lives.
“My husband has been signed off work with depression for 11 weeks and they have been the biggest support in terms of pointing us in the right direction for counselling and financial support. The staff have been really friendly and supportive of me and my husband.
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“Trained staff have the ability to spot warning signs, for example, although it didn’t happen in my case. They can spot if a child is being withdrawn and not wanting to interact.”
Full-time mum Ms Herbert said she was particularly worried about the impact on rural areas if the county council’s proposals went ahead.
She said: “Rural communities have nothing if the children’s centres go so it is a big thing for rural families.
“I do not want any centres to be closed and I am very concerned for rural families.”
A decision on whether or not all the centres will be closed will not be made until early next year, after the consultation period has closed.
County council cabinet member for education, Melinda Tilley, said new services would continue to support families. She said: “We understand that people have found the children’s centres valuable since they began to operate over the course of the past 10 to 15 years.
“Our proposals would see the formation of a brand new service merging services for children of all ages up to 19.
“There would be significant outreach work from the centres within this service.
“We are particularly interested to hear ideas from communities for how services that the county council may no longer be able to provide could continue in future.”
But mum-of-two Jill Huish, who is leading the Save Oxfordshire Children’s Centres campaign, said she was worried volunteers would not provide the same level of service.
She said: “The staff are really good at linking you up to different services which can help. It’s not just the fact that these staff are really well trained in these centres, but that families can be given support from an early stage when staff sport the warnings early on.
“Children’s centres are a one- stop shop.”
The consultation on children’s centres is open until January 10 and can be viewed at oxfordshire.gov.uk