Sheffield children’s centres facing the axe

Key part of the community: Children's centres provide a vital service for families.
Key part of the community: Children's centres provide a vital service for families.
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CHILDREN’s centres across Sheffield are facing closure as part of a full-scale review of services for youngsters.

Changes will be brought in over the next three years against a bleak background of cuts to the overall council budget of £220 million.

The city has 36 centres which have been developed over the past decade to deliver a wide range of services to families and young children - including childcare, education, health and help with jobs and benefits.

But councillors will hear today the network must be made more efficient by concentrating on a smaller number of centres.

No details on which centres will be affected will be released until the new year - but those affected are likely to be smaller outlets in better-off suburbs.

Education chiefs say frontline services will be protected, but add significant savings can be made through a completely fresh start that will avoid duplication and waste.

Consultations on the review - launched as a key part of Labour’s election manifesto - are now under way and will continue until early December.

Parents and staff at one children’s centre today said they provided vital services for local families.

Norma Armitage, childcare manager at Manor Children’s Centre, said with 140 youngsters on the register the centre was a key part of the community.

“We offer a wide range of services - the centre is about different agencies coming here and working together to provide the very best for families and children,” she said.

Mum Natalie Brookes, 31, said her five-year-old daughter Charlie had attended the centre since the age of six months and still came back for holiday play care.

“It has made her the confident little child she is now. She loves coming back and thinks the staff here are part of the family,” she added.

Cabinet member for children, young people and families Coun Jackie Drayton said the aim was still to provide quality services throughout the city.

“This isn’t about cuts, it is about reorganisation. The budget changes have given us a golden opportunity to take a fresh look at how we do things,” she said.

“There won’t be fewer services for any particular area but they may be delivered in a different way.”

The range of children’s centres varies widely across the city, from large new purpose-built facilities in Darnall and Parson Cross to small units based in schools.

Council officers want services to be more flexible - with centres for example offering evening childcare for parents working twilight shifts, or weekend family learning sessions which are more accessible for dads.

They also want private and council childcare groups to work more closely together so they can offer more hours to families.

Coun Drayton said: “We want to be more creative and innovative in what we do. In some areas private nurseries could be the answer, in others there may currently be over-provision.

“We are of course conscious of the budget situation which is seeing massive cuts. But the review has never been about saving money, it is about protecting services for young children as a vital stage of their lives.”