Parents speak out against potential closure of 32 West Sussex children and family centres

'A God send', 'a valuable resource' and 'heart of the community' - these are just some of the ways parents have described their local children and family centres.

Tuesday, 5th January 2021, 4:14 pm
Updated Tuesday, 5th January 2021, 4:16 pm
The children and family centre at the Sidney West Sports and Community Centre in Burgess Hill is one of those under threat of closure.

More than 3,000 people have already signed a petition started three days ago by Cllr Catherine Arnold, Cllr Lee Cowen, and Cllr Carl Walker urging West Sussex County Council to reconsider plans to close 32 of the 43 children and family centres in the county.

If agreed, the changes would also see all 12 of the Find It Out youth advice centres close as well.

On hearing the news, parents have taken to social media urging everyone to sign the petition, which you can access here.

Emma Woolford used three centres around Worthing - two of which are currently under threat.

She wrote: "In May 2019, I had my twins after over 10 years of trying and eventually getting pregnant via IVF. When the boys arrived, all my dreams came true but them the true work began! It was extremely hard and overwhelming and post natal depression came very quickly.

"If it hadn’t been for these centres, I never would have realised what was wrong, if anything. I met other mums and really started to feel like I could do this, being a mum was going to be hard but I had somewhere to go, a place to escape, a place to ask for help.

"Then covid hit!! To say it’s been a struggle is an understatement. The one thing I miss and really want to be able to do again is go along to one of the centres. Not just for me, but for my boys who are so much older now and would be able to enjoy it even more.

"I hope they don’t close these centres, I think it would be so detrimental to the community that is already under a lot of pressure from the current pandemic."

Mum Charlotte Doddington took to the Lancing Herald Facebook page and described the centres as 'a valuable resource, lifeline, support and pleasure to have in our lives and community'.

She went on to say: "These centres connect people. Support people. Enable our children to get out the house in a safe and free setting. Facilities that don't discriminate according to your budget, whether you have a car or can get the bus, you can walk and get there come rain, wind, snow or empty purse.

"Friendships form between children and mothers. Courses are run for educational purposes to help parents increase their knowledge. Midwife and health visitors can be accessed locally.

"They're a place to go where it doesn't matter if your child is having a disaster day, no one will look at you, in fact you will be supported and embraced by others.

"They are stay and play centre, provider of free and healthy snacks, a place to have a cuppa, access to free toys, musical instruments, books, crafts and outside play areas for children to experience. To learn to share.

"They are a safe and clean place to change your baby and use the facilities when pregnant or postnatal. They are more than just a centre, they are the heart of the community for many families."

Anchorette Parvin-blackstone took to the Littlehampton Gazette Facebook page to list all the different ways she has used the family centres, adding: "I'm not sure I would have made it without my family centre and can't wait for covid to clear off so I can be there once again."

Lisa Cottingham said she visited Penn Crescent in Hayward’s Heath every week and likewise said she was looking forward to them reopening.

Similarly Katie Lavender Grevett wrote: "I have a four year old and a nine month old born three days into lockdown and not having the services has been so awful, I have missed it all so much. I do hope.they don't shut them all."

Sam Sewell used to work in Broadfield Children's Centre as an outside provider 14 years ago. She described the service as 'absolutely essential for certain families'.

"The centre gave families the support and guidance they would not otherwise have had, particularly when they had no family of their own locally or were new to the area and therefore no friends either for support and company.

"You couldn't put a price on how the centres helped them and their children to become part of our community.

"When some of these mums went on to become employed by some centres all their expertise went back into the centres. It was brilliant!"

West Sussex County Council is facing huge budget pressures and a redesign of early help services would help it save £1.95milllion.

The Tory-led county council, which has been calling for extra central government funding to avoid making cuts, said its priority for Early Help services is to work with the most vulnerable children and families.

But Labour argues the core purpose of children and family centres is to improve outcomes for young children and their families, reduce inequalities between families in greatest need and their peers in child development and improve parenting skills and child and family health and life chances.

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