I ATTENDED the Oxfordshire County Council children’s centres consultation meeting in Osney to – I thought – be listened to by councillor Melinda Tilley.
The meeting instead started with a presentation by Jim Leivers, the director of children’s services, saying what we all knew, that Oxfordshire’s children’s centres are among the best in the country.
It was followed by an invitation from Cllr Mark Gray to come forward and keep children’s centres going as multi-funded community enterprises, which Cllr Tilley later equated to running lending libraries.
Mr Leivers was the only person on the podium to ask genuine questions in the spirit of consultation.
The floor came up with spirited and informed questions, many of which were unanswered by the two council members.
These included: has a full economic modelling been undertaken to assess the long-term costs of removing preventative services, closing centres, losing expert staff and writing off the years of investment that have produced these high quality services?
Cllr Tilley’s breathtaking response was that she didn’t understand the question.
Actually we deduced that the answer was ‘no’.
A question from a children’s centre professional about who will hold the many cases of vulnerability that sit below the threshold for statutory intervention, currently part of her workload, was not answered.
The nature of that work and how it frees social workers to focus on child protection did not seem to be understood by the two council members.
Why isn’t the whole process being put on hold until after the forthcoming national consultation on children’s centres?
I can only hope that future sessions are true consultations where the panel asks questions of the floor and where we don’t witness Cllr Gray haranguing a service user about whether she had visited as many children’s centres as he has.
Finally, could the meetings be held at times when parents are not feeding and settling their children for bed?
Prof ANNE EDWARDS
Rewley Road, Oxford