West Sussex County Council has been urged not to ‘abandon’ children who leave school at the age of 16.
As part of its efforts to save £75.5m over the next four years, the council is considering reducing or axing the post-16 support service which offers guidance and advice to youngsters who are not in education, employment or training.
Cutting the service completely would save £484,000 – but there were strong concerns from members of the children and young people’s services select committee, who said the council should be thinking about the future of the youngsters rather than the money it could save.
Ann Bridges (Con, Lancing) said: “I think it’s so important, particularly for children leaving care and those who are still in care but going to colleges as well.
“We can’t just abandon them, we just can’t.”
Karen Sudan (Lab, Northgate & West Green) added: “We are just storing up trouble for ourselves in the future if we’re only thinking in terms of money.
“This is the time that we need to be worrying about them the most and I can’t believe that we’re talking about cutting back on what we do for them.”
While the council is legally required to keep track of children between the ages of 16 and 18 and ‘promote’ education or employment to them, it doesn’t have to offer any other support.
West Sussex has been doing more, providing one-to-one support, careers guidance and further education advice. It is this extra support which it is now considering dropping.
The committee was asked to look at two options, halving the support from April 2021, or cutting it completely.
While the final decision will be made by Nigel Jupp, cabinet member for education and skills, in November, committee members made their feelings clear.
There was absolutely no support for the idea of dropping the service and, after a debate, members agreed they didn’t want to see any cuts at all.
Suajn Wickremaratchi (Con, Haywards Heath Town) said: “We have a duty as a council to look after this vulnerable age range. They are our future after all.
“We should be reaching out to these children not cutting funding.”
Mrs Sudan added: “We talk about a statutory duty to track them. Well what is the point of tracking them if we’re not going to do anything about it?
“We might as well not track them if we’re not going to do anything because what’s the point of knowing where they are if we’re not going to do anything to help them?”
Committee chairman David Barling (Con, Bramber Castle) said: “We regard this as a valuable service which has a number of great benefits to the work the council does. We should urge the cabinet member to try to avoid making this saving.”