Axing almost half of Cambridgeshire’s children’s centres is going to have dire effects on children’s health and wellbeing, mums and health professionals warn.
With just four days to go before a consultation closes on the future of children’s centres throughout the county, a number of mothers from throughout East Cambridgeshire have voiced their concerns to Spotted in Ely.
Cambridgeshire County Council, which uses the slogan “where children and families thrive”, plans to scrap 19 of its 40 centres across Cambridgeshire in a bid to save £1 million.
In East Cambridgeshire, the county council plans to axe centres in Sutton and Bottisham, while turning its Soham centre into a “child and family zone”, where some activities and programmes will be delivered in other spaces, such as libraries.
Ely and Littleport would have “child and family centres”, with extended opening times.
Breastfeeding councillor Megan Stephenson opposes the plans, saying they are driven by “continued government ideological austerity measures”, with severe long-term consequences.
“The cost to the country of having a generation of children who haven’t had the children’s centres will be much more than the savings made.
“I won’t personally be affected by the closures in our immediate area, my children are older now, but through my work in breastfeeding support, I have contact with a number of other children’s centres which are under threat of closure, it’s not clear whether that breastfeeding support will be able to continue without the support of the children’s centres, it is certainly likely to be less accessible.”
Fiona Waddelow also attacked the proposals, saying that at a time when postnatal groups and baby massage sessions have been cut, mums would suffer from further isolation at a vulnerable time.
She had used the Sutton children’s centre with her first child, describing its under one’s group as “amazing”.
Breastfeeding an underweight baby, she had also appreciated the chance to use weigh in facilities in Sutton.
“I had lived in the village 10 years and knew virtually no one. The staff were amazing!
“I would not want to think of where I could have been without it.”
Fiona, a regular face at the Jellytots baby and toddler group in Little Downham, says many services previously available to parents in the area have already been cut, warning that further losses could lead to an increase in depression and more families struggling to cope.
“Having children may be natural but it can put strain on mental health if there is not a support network. I fear in the long run this could be a greater cost… It is such a shame.”
Meanwhile Ely mum Clare Hind wants health visitors to access local baby and toddler groups so that parents don’t have to travel to get the help they need.
“In this area it’s not fair as there are limited bus services and small villages with people that don’t drive.”
Furious Soham mum Anna Mathieson called the council’s proposals “disgusting”, saying that her local centre is “loved the way it is and well used”.
She regularly visits Soham children’s centre with her baby Ava, who loves the sensory equipment.
Anna points to research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which expects child poverty to rise nationally due to government cutbacks.
“What is more important in rural areas? Pot holes or children and families?”
In Northamptonshire, where services had been similarly cut, only targeted families were able to use children’s centre and as a result, qualified staff were greatly reduced, Anna says.
“This meant that families had to travel for certain requirements to meet children in need plans or child protection plans and not many could afford to or had the will to.”
Anna points to numerous research, outlining the benefits of early childhood education and in certain cases, early intervention, adding that in Cambridge city alone, there are enough children out of education to fill an entire school.
“The question has to be asked: why are they in that situation? Were they missed on early intervention in early childhood as we know the effects in the first 1001 days are key to brain development and that issues from the early years can develop and show themselves after 10 years of age even when we think the kid’s okay.
“All the more reason to support the good work that’s happening in this area’s children’s centres.”
According to Cambridgeshire County Council’s consultation, many families are in need of additional support in Ely, Soham and Littleport, and the pressure is likely to grow as these areas continue to expand.
Outside the larger towns, East Cambridgeshire has “a number of very isolated villages with poor or no public transport”, the document says, adding that outreach in these communities will have to be developed.
“Our current delivery model in East Cambridgeshire has a significant outreach component in communities not served by an existing children’s centre.”
Cambridgeshire’s first children’s Centre opened in 2005 with the aim of helping families in more deprived areas to give their children the best start in life.
There are 40 designated children’s centres across the county, delivered by a combination of the County Council, schools and voluntary organisations.
The contracts for externally delivered children’s centres finish in April 2018.
Cambridge Liberal Democrats have launched a petition, calling on the council to reconsider its review of children’s centres.
The petition states: “knowing that a local children’s centre is there when it is needed can be a life-saver.”
The consultation on the future of children’s centres in Cambridgeshire closes at midday on Friday (September 22) and takes a survey format.
It takes a few minutes to fill in. To take part click here.