Because of government cuts, Oxfordshire County Council is being forced to make additional savings on its public spending. In early December OCC will publish its proposals on cutting funding to certain services. All OCC councillors will vote on this budget in February 2014. Last week on Tuesday Henley Town and Community Committee councillors met at the Town Hall to discuss how they can encourage OCC to continue funding the Henley Rainbow Children’s Centre and exclude it from OCC’s budget cut proposals.
During the public participation section of the meeting Mr Barry Wood spoke to state that the Rainbow Children’s Centre was indispensable to the residents of Henley. Lucy Benns spoke to ask councillors if the centre was closed where else were the children meant to go.
Banny Hay spoke to explain the role of the centre. She said the centre was a good example of what an ideal children’s centre should be because not only did it support children and their parents and carers, but it also provided health services (such as health visitors, midwives, breastfeeding experts, information on how to access drug and alcohol abuse advice and healthy eating advice etc) as well as job centre plus services (such as helping adults with education, training, maternity rights, information on childcare, and benefits etc) all in one place. It was a one stop shop.
She explained that the centre caters for children from birth to five years old. The centre provides them with early years education and supports their development. The centre was especially important for children from the age group birth to three years old because the government does not provide children with the weekly 15 hours free early years education until after their third birthday. At the centres children benefit from experienced, qualified and professionally trained staff who aid the children with achieving their development milestones. The children get to socialise with other children and it is an excellent preparation for pre-school. Another benefit of the centre, was that it was open almost all year whereas a lot of the privately run classes and groups followed school term times.
Banny Hay also said the centre supported children’s parents and their carers and ran dad’s days when fathers could also get support from staff. It was important for parents and carers to have a community hub where they could have face to face time and support of other mums. Qualified experienced staff were also important and the staff at the centre were impartial unlike groups run by parent volunteers and as a result people felt safe in confiding any worries to them before they escalated as they knew staff had an obligation to keep matters confidential. This was especially valuable for first time mothers she said as Netmums had recently reported that 1 in 7 mothers experience mental health issues postnatally or antenatally.
She said, “It’s important for Henley to keep the centre because although the town was perceived as affluent there were still deprived people living in the town. She pointed out that everyone in Henley could benefit from the centre. Post natal depression, drug and alcohol abuse or child and domestic abuse were not limited to certain economic groups but affected everyone.” She also said there was no other publicly run and funded service in the town with qualified trained experienced staff, which stayed open nearly all year around, and which was free to access. There was also nowhere else which served as a community hub with a large mix of people. She also pointed out that the centre was very well used because it was central and easily accessible by pram and also served all the villages surrounding Henley where people were most isolated. She pointed out that the closest centres were in Sonning Common and Wallingford which were less convenient for Henley residents to access.
She went on to say that the centre should remain accessible to all and not be targeted to only the most vulnerable and disenfranchised as this would result in stigmatising people, would spell segregation and the wonderful thing about the centre was that it functioned as a community hub where everyone mixed very well. She also said the centre should remain free because middle income families and those with just one parent working found it a struggle to regularly attend activities where a fee had to be paid, particularly if siblings were also attending.
She concluded that Henley regularly came top of polls as a great place for families to raise children and therefore it was inconceivable that sixteen years after children’s centres were first opened in the UK that Henley should ever be denied a children’s centre. She finished by urging the councillors to work closely with Oxfordshire County Council to ensure that the centre remained open, that its funding was not cut, that it retained the same number and quality of staff, that it remained open to all and that access stayed free. She finished by asking the councillors what action they could and would take.
Most of the councillors agreed that the centre was lively and thriving and essential to Henley. This was emphasised by Councillor Nimmo-Smith who explained he had visited the centre on Monday with Emma Taylor and Banny Hay and had been very impressed with what he saw. The Mayor also spoke to say that he firmly believed in the importance of early years education and that the centre should remain open.
The Mayor proposed that the councillors invite the relevant people from OCC who are involved in recommending the budget cut proposals to come to Henley so that Henley councillors have an opportunity to discuss the future of the Henley Rainbow Children’s Centre with them before the budget is voted on by OCC members in February 2014. It was concluded that this motion would be voted on by the full committee of Henley Town Council when it next met in mid December.