Labour councillors from across West Sussex have started a petition to call on Tory run West Sussex County Council to halt the planned sweeping cuts to its Early Help service and reverse the proposed closures of the Children’s and Family Centres and Find it Out advice centres across the county.
The Conservative leadership at West Sussex County Council are proposing the closure of 32 of the 43 “Sure Start” Children and Family Centres in the county. If agreed, the changes would also see all 12 of the Find It Out youth advice centres close as well. These cuts would remove £1.95m in total from the council’s budget.
However, the core purpose of Children and Family Centres is to improve outcomes for young children and their families, reduce inequalities between families in greatest need and their peers in child development and improve parenting skills and child and family health and life chances.
Local Labour councillors Catherine Arnold, Lee Cowen and Carl Walker have launched a countywide petition this week calling on the council to halt the proposed closure of 32 West Sussex Children and Family Centres. The petition has already gained over 1,000 signatures in under 24 hours, highlighting the strong public feeling against the proposed closures.
Labour councillors believe these centres are an essential part of many communities across the county and need to be protected from unnecessary cuts. This is especially the case when Covid poses so many physical, mental health and social isolation issues for so many vulnerable families.
Indeed, the severe reduction in the service will leave many towns and villages across West Sussex without physical provision, as well as risking the end of universal provision of vital support to families that would benefit from it. Areas that will entirely lose all their centres include Lancing and Sompting, Midhurst, Petworth, Selsey, Storrington, Billingshurst, East Grinstead and Burgess Hill.
Cllr Arnold from St Mary’s Ward, Shoreham, said: “The closure of our Family and Youth Centres in West Sussex shows a deep lack of understanding that these centres are literally a lifeline for many women and their children and will be again after Covid. I know from personal experience when I was a young mother, I had no income at one point and a baby, that I could visit the centre get advice on breastfeeding and baby health and see friends. This was an incredibly important support service for both mine and my children’s wellbeing.”
Cllr Cowen from Mash Barn Ward in Lancing said: “As a Lancing councillor, resident and father, I’m very concerned that we could lose both children’s centres and the youth centre. I can’t emphasise strongly enough how important the centres on North Road and Upper Boundstone Lane are for supporting parents and it must be retained as a universal service. There’s a perplexing paradox where the local authorities press for the building of 600 new family homes on New Monks Farm whilst proposing the closures of the nearby family and youth centres.”
Cllr Walker, from Selden Ward in Worthing, who is a community psychologist at the University of Brighton and has worked closely with a number of children and family centres, said: “Research shows just how incredibly effective these centres are. These short-sighted cuts will create more social problems in our communities and will inevitably end up costing the council more money in the long run. It is dreadful mismanagement to close these centres, especially now during Covid when there are so many families in need. This is clearly a cost cutting measure by a council strapped for cash by the Conservative government who have stripped 60p in every £1 that councils could spend on local services since 2010”.
Welcoming the petition, Labour Group Leader on West Sussex County Council Michael Jones added: “The West Sussex Tory cuts keep on coming – now it’s the Sure Start children and family centres which have helped local families so much across the county.
It’s unthinkable to inflict these socially devastating cuts on our residents. So many people have benefitted from this support and it will take this county backwards to lose it.
“The petitioners have the full support of Labour county councillors in fighting for these valuable frontline services and I am delighted this petition already has over a thousand signatures in less than one day. This just underlines the strength of feeling.”
Research shows that Children and Family Centres are essential to the wellbeing of many parents and their children. Specifically, children and family centres significantly impact the physical health of many families and have positive social impacts on communities, especially those living in disadvantage.
They have positive outcomes for many families identified as experiencing more complex problems and improve mental health outcomes for children and parents using the centres. Importantly, mothers whose families were registered at centres showed improved mental health compared to mothers at centres that had experienced budget cuts and were reducing services.
The petition can be signed at the county council’s petition webpage, the link for which is below:
The list of Children and Family Centres set to be closed by the West Sussex Tory Cabinet across the county are set out below:
Boundstone CFC, Sompting
Stepping Stones (Fishersgate) CFC
Bognor Regis CFC, Victoria Drive
East Preston CFC
The Villages (Yapton) CFC
Langley Green and Ifield CFC
Horsham CFC (Harwood Road)
Little Footsteps (Storrington) CFC
Blackwell (East Grinstead) CFC
East Grinstead (Library) CFC
Sidney West (Burgess Hill) CFC
Sussex Downs (Hurstpierpoint) CFC
The Gattons (Burgess Hill) CFC
Footprints (Crescent Road) CFC
The Wave (East Worthing) CFC