Norfolk CC is set to close 46 of its 53 children’s centres and create an outreach service to support vulnerable families.
The council’s preferred option, outlined in a public consultation launched yesterday, involves establishing seven district bases to co-ordinate services such as online advice. From these bases officers will work with vulnerable families, as well as offer support for communities to provide activities themselves from October 2019.
Norfolk has considered four options for future delivery, including maintaining the current arrangements, but said the preferred model would fulfil statutory guidance and “offers the opportunity to reach the most disadvantaged families”.
The consultation document says the way the council currently works is unsustainable due to funding challenges alongside rising demand for adult social care and children’s services.
Norfolk is aiming to save £30m this year on a net revenue budget of £389m. The council is forecasting deficits in both 2019-20 and 2020-21 totalling £95m in addition to planned savings of £79m over the period 2018-19 to 2021-22.
This year Norfolk invested an additional £13m in children’s services, incuding £5m allocated to children’s centres.
Children’s centres in Norfolk were established in 2000 under the previous Labour government’s Sure Start programme, with current services delivered through 12 providers including charities, an NHS trust, and schools.
Services include antenatal and postnatal support and help for parents facing domestic abuse, addiction and mental health problems.
Currently 41,455 families in Norfolk are registered with a children’s centre but 24% of the county’s children who live in households experiencing the highest level of deprivation have had no contact with centres.
The council says the proposed children’s centres strategy would enable the council to offer help “early and in the right places” and “will be better for people and better for the council, by making best use of our resources”.
It added: “We need to make sure that we use these services in a more integrated way with other services to meet the changing needs of our Norfolk population.
“We therefore think this is the right time to propose new ways of working that reflect the change in needs and how residents access services.”
Pilots in three areas will be launched this autumn.