Swindon Borough Council’s proposals to decommission seven of the town’s Children’s Centres, including Butterflies at Abbey Meads, have prompted concern from Early Years professionals in North Swindon.
Following the Prime Minister David Cameron’s speech in mid-August that government policy has to be pass a family friendly text, the Council’s proposed move to eliminate a substantial part of services to families in Swindon seems cruelly contradictory.
Expressing her anxiety about the proposals Butterflies manager Tanya Parkinson said: “We are proud of the work we do at Butterflies and are anxious that those people who need most help do not experience a difference in service following the proposed cuts.”
In a newsletter to centre users Tanya wrote: “It is with much sadness, just 8 weeks since my last newsletter, in which we announced increased funding, introduced our additional 5 members of staff and began to increase the number of activities we offer, that I am writing about our shock at being informed by Swindon Borough Council that they propose to close Butterflies as a Children’s Centre with effect from 31 March 2015.”
Tanya said: “The proposal is to replace the Centre with a multi-generational family centre which could bring together groups run by parents. However, we believe the existing model here at Butterflies is making a real difference to families, educational settings and health teams in the North and, whilst recognising that the current financial climate is so difficult, we feel that to cut the funding to this centre is ‘false economy’ in the longer term.”
Commenting on the services offered by Children’s Centres, MP for Swindon South Robert Buckland said: “As a local parent who uses children’s centres I feel strongly that family should be at the heart of government policy. But it’s all about the service, not the buildings. I’ve talked to families who are not aware of the support that should be available in their community, particularly, for example a depressed mother who can’t get to a children’s centre.
"We are seeing a welcome increase in the number of Health Visitors in Swindon and I believe that this will help the service reach out even further into the community to make sure that families in need get the help they deserve.”
Highlighting the importance of Early Years intervention Butterflies manager Tanya Parkinson said: “All research shows that early intervention is crucial. We have 1422 children under 5 registered with the centre, and 827 who attend regularly. This Centre serves the third highest number of children in need in Swindon. Our recent Ofsted recognised that ‘Family support is very effective, the Centre ensures a strong safety net of support for the most vulnerable children and families, particularly the high numbers suffering from domestic abuse”.
Speaking about the service carried out by her team in North Swindon, Tanya said: “Research specialist Code, spoke to 100 targeted families in our area, who hadn’t accessed the Centre ever or within the last six months. They found that 79% knew about Butterflies and 50% had used the centre at least once. They also stated that they would be prepared to walk one mile but no further to reach a centre, which highlights the importance of having a building in the community that people can access.”
Although the council’s proposals include the introduction of 17 new health visitors working in the community in 2015, the scope and flexibility of the service undertaken by Butterflies’ skilled support workers cannot be underestimated said Tanya. “We fund our ‘universal groups’ by charging a fee to those who can afford it, thereby ensuring the vast majority of our funding from SBC goes to targetted groups in the community and 1-1 family support. We also attend child protection and multi-agency meetings, as well as run Team-around-the family meetings for those experiencing challenges.”
“We have supported 500 families in their homes since we opened in September 2010 and currently visit, usually at least fortnightly, 75 vulnerable families in need; approximately 40% of these families are presenting with depression, low mood and domestic violence, which has an impact on children from all social groups. In four years 94% of the families we have supported have made at least good progress, with only 6% ever being referred back.
“Whatever the outcome of the consultation, we will remain committed to the people of North Swindon and, if necessary, provide the best possible services for local families through the proposed Family Centre model, with 2/3 of current funding as outlined in the plan.”
The consultation period runs until 3 October.
The full list of consultation meeting dates can be found at: swindon.gov.uk/childrenscentres
Council representatives will be present during the first part of the meetings to explain the council proposals.
Specifically, West Swindon Family Centre is organising a meeting on Thursday 18 September, 10.30am to 12.30pm, at Freshbrook Community Centre;
Butterflies is holding meetings on:
Monday 22 September, 9.30am to 11am, Abbey Meads Primary School;
Wednesday 24 September, 10.30am to 12noon, Greenmeadow Centre, Pen Close;
Tuesday 30 September, 10.30am to 12noon – Oakhurst/Redhouse venue to be confirmed. Call Butterflies on 01793 722984.