David Henwood

Oxford Mail:

City councillor for Cowley, Labour

Many parents and teachers see a real value in developing social skills at an early age, providing children with important know-how before they enter primary schools.

As well as being better equipped to access learning, there is notable value managing and modelling good behaviours, and better support with health care, and parenting.

Since 2010 budget pressures on local authorities mean that children’s centres, libraries and services for the elderly will face Tory cuts in budgets and resources.

When Oxfordshire County Council leader Ian Hudspeth wrote to David Cameron pleading the case against cuts to children’s centres, the Prime Minister’s reply reflected a local politician out of touch with his constituents.

Oxfordshire Council’s grant funding has been cut from £122m in 2011/12 to £62m this year.

It is bizarre to think we are now involved in an expensive bombing campaign in Syria, and clinging on to a cold war dinosaur named Trident that will cost the British taxpayer £40 billion to maintain.

The defence of frontline services like children’s centres and services for the elderly seem secondary to our need to get involved in a civil war.

There are cheaper, smarter ways to protect our borders.

As a secondary school teacher I know only too well how new governments reshape the education system, sometimes by adjusting the national curriculum, or reforming the way schools are governed.

But crucially, no politician taking power would seriously consider abolishing schools.

Closing the county’s 44 children’s centres to save a possible £6m of the £50m cuts the council needs to find is the same sort of proposition.

What price will this have on the learning, attainment, health care and improved parenting practices?

To many young families the centres provide a lifeline of support, providing immeasurable support in the form of support groups, networking and a community where advice is free and informative. Both children and parents alike view these islands as an intrinsic web that bind the very fabric of communities together. Unwind this critical social web and families and communities may collapse.

The alternatives for many young parents will mean they will struggle further in finding child care and reducing work hours putting yet more pressure on young families.

The city’s eight centres would close leaving a few referral centres, their focus not on education, but with a remit of social care.

My own two children experienced learning in a children’s centre, the support and guidance my wife received will never be forgotten. In our early married years they provided purpose and professional support.

The benefits of children’s centres to young families are well recorded.

My recommendations are that children’s centres should be placed on a statutory footing akin to other similar institutions such as schools.

The core purpose for children’s centres should be remodelled around a concept of early intervention so that they become recognised as the ‘early help service’.

Children’s centres should be refocused exclusively on providing services to families from conception to a child starting school.

However, policy should take a more nuanced view of the five and under age group, recognising the different stages of development and associated need within the age range.

The structure and commissioning models for children’s centres should be re-examined to assess whether they are best designed to deliver the quality aimed for in centres.

Children’s centres and their further development are critical in tackling inequalities and a crucial first step in child development.

Support the movement to save our children’s centres.