Doncaster children’s centres in axe threat

A previous protest against children's centre closures in Edlington
A previous protest against children's centre closures in Edlington

Proposals are being drawn up to close 17 of Doncaster’s children’s and youth centres over the next three years.

If approved, the controversial plans would see nine children’s centres axed and eight youth centres, as the authority looks to shave its budgets.

The authority has drawn up a list of all its centres and rated them all for their cost and current state of repair, which is expected to be taken into account when decisions are made.

Mayor Ros Jones’ cabinet will start the decision making process next week.

But a report which will go before the cabinet meeting states: “The corporate asset review has approved the closure of eight children’s centre premises and nine youth centre premises.

“The proposals focus on the priority to deliver support to families but recognise the need to reduce the number of buildings run by this council. Assets will provide the infrastructure for the early help model to be delivered creating a hub and spoke delivery model.

“Through consultation assets will be identified for alternative models of delivery and asset ownership or disposal ensuring that there is an infrastructure to deliver effective services within each locality area. A list of recommendations for asset retention, alternative ownership or disposal will be developed through the consultation process, and be submitted to cabinet as a number of recommendations following consultation.”

A list of centres has given each of the council’s children’s and youth centres a traffic light classification for their current state of repair.

Of those, 11 are classified as ‘red’.

They are Bullcroft Youth Centre, Hightime Outreach Building, Highfields, Askern Youth Centre, Sprotbrough Youth Centre, Armthorpe Youth Centre, Kirk Sandall Youth Centre, Moorends Youth Centre, Balby Youth Centre, Elmfield House, Rossington Youth Centre, and Willows Outreach Centre, Mexborough.

Conservative group leader on the council, Jonathan Wood, has criticised the plans.

He said: “Of course we’re clearly disappointed with these plans when we are trying to cut youth unemployment. We are very concerned about this.

“There are going to be communities which lose an important facility because of this. We are particularly concerned for the most vulnerable communities where children need engagement from an early age. We need to engage with the most vulnerable youth groups.”

Edlington parish councillor Georgina Mullis said she was concerned Edlington children’s centre could be on the hit list. In the past residents have held protest marches over previous plans to close it. She said: “The marches that have taken place show the strength of feeling here about keeping children’s centres.”

In the longer term, the authority is looking to revamp how its children and youth centres operate. It is proposed that the current children’s centre boundaries are ditched and the children’s centre service is developed across four locality areas. The review will also make recommendations with regards the arrangements for delivering youth services, as part of an integrated delivery model through the four areas.

Eleanor Brazil, director of children and young people’s service, said: “At their meeting on 30th July, cabinet are being asked to agree that we start a consultation process with families, communities and partners over the next few months to consider potential future options for our children centres and youth centres.

“The Council has already agreed to progress the Early Help strategy which will improve our ability, working with partner agencies, to help children, young people and their families in Doncaster before more significant problems develop. As part of this process we will be evaluating how to make the best use of our resources and our centres to ensure that in future we deliver a consistent service across Doncaster, with priority given to those with greater need.

“The consultation process will help us to develop proposals and options for the centres, which members will consider in the autumn.”

Children’s Centres were set up in a bid to give every child the best start in life, providing activities to meet the needs of the local community. Services include family Support, health services, adult education and training, social care services, cildcare and toy libraries. Youth centres provide activities and advice and support for teenagers and young people.

The plans to close children’s and youth centres comes hot on the heels on a decision to close council-run old people’s homes and social educations centres, which are being challenged through the courts by service users.