THOUSANDS of families are set to see Children’s Centre services change as council chiefs strive to save £1.7million from their budget.
Sunderland City Council is planning to strip 12 of its 17 Children’s Centres of their official status in a bid to balance the books and has launched a public consultation on the proposals.
Wearside’s Children’s Centres provide learning and play facilities as well as health and family advice. The 17 centres are used by about 12,000 people a month.
But children’s services chiefs say they must make savings to cope with funding reductions, and plan to “undesignate” 12 of the centres to save cash while protecting frontline services.
Pat Smith, the senior councillor responsible for children’s services in Sunderland, urged families to take part in the consultation.
She said: “Our commitment to providing all young people with the best possible opportunities we can is unwavering, but we need to change the way we do things to take into account current economic pressures.”
The undesignated centres will continue providing activities as normal – but will no longer be required to have a full-time reception service providing information and will not be subject to Ofsted inspections.
Parents and community representatives may also have the opportunity to sit on area boards and influence how and what services are delivered to meet needs in their neighbourhoods.
Sandra Mitchell, head of early intervention and locality services in the council’s children’s services department, said: “The changes would help us to save money by reducing administration and management costs in permanently staffing receptions and supporting Ofsted inspection arrangements.
“We are also looking at how all the current Children’s Centre buildings could play a greater role in the community, by making them into venues for meetings, clubs and groups.
“Our proposal is to have five ‘designated’ Children’s Centres, one in each area of Sunderland.”
Ms Mitchell said there was still value in having services subject to external inspection, and keeping some of the centres subject to Ofsted would bring benefits to other delivery points.
The council has 56 sites delivering services to children, including community centres and libraries.
Ms Mitchell said activities would continue as normal at the Children’s Centre buildings, even those which were undesignated, but they may change depending on demand – which would happen regardless of the proposals.
Parents and carers will receive information and a short feedback form on the proposals, which can be returned by post, handed in at a Children’s Centre, or taken to one of a number of the planned public meetings across the city.
The public meetings will run from Monday to Friday, December 9, with people being given the chance to hear the proposals first-hand and put forward their views.
Information and an online feedback form are also available at the Children’s Centre website, www.sunderlandchildrenscentres.co.uk