NEARLY two-thirds of a county’s children’s centres face an uncertain future, after council chiefs admitted they had not produced the hoped-for impact for the poorest children.
Durham County Council said its specialist children’s centres programme had not reached “many of those in most need” and so had “not resulted in the improvements hoped for regarding preparing the county’s most vulnerable children for school, particularly in the most deprived areas”.
Now council chiefs are proposing to slash their numbers from 43 to 15, with the remaining 28 “transferring” to schools and nurseries or used for other purposes.
However, a spokesman said no closures were proposed.
The shake-up would save about £1m a year, from an annual budget of £4.9m, at a time when the authority faces cuts of £224m between 2011 and 2017.
The council says the changes reflect an “emphasis shift” from specialist buildings to community venues already attended by families and would allow the authority to maintain investment in other areas.
A pilot project already underway in Chester-le-Street is said to be working well.
The Labour cabinet is expected to order a 12-week consultation on the proposals next Wednesday (July 16).
Councillor Ossie Johnson, the cabinet’s member for children and young people’s services, said: “We have made some progress in this important area but we need to do more.
“We won’t let where you live dictate your chances in life and I believe this approach offers many of the children most in need in our county a better chance of getting the help they require.
“We need our children to be ready and equipped for their school journey and to make the most of the opportunities we can offer.”
County Durham’s 43 children’s centres were opened from 2004 onwards.
Many more young children are now reaching the national standard of a ‘good level of development’ than previously, but County Durham still lags well behind the UK average of 52 per cent, on 41.7 per cent.
Users of Woodhouse Close children’s centre, in Bishop Auckland – which is listed for transfer – said it was extremely popular.
Marion Emmott said: “They (the council) can’t leave anything alone, can they?
“Everybody knows where it is now and it’s in a good position.
“If it starts moving around people who can’t travel will miss out if they can get to where it’s at.”
Karolina Banda added: “The centre was really useful for me, it works well as it is. I think to have it in various places is just going to confuse people and they will miss out.”
Maria Dobson said: “People come from all around to use this centre because they know what is there and how good it is. It’s on our doorstep, there’s no need to change it. It’s brilliant as it is.”