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Familiar surroundings can stop vulnerable families falling through the net, says councillor

Lancashire County Council has consulted on cutting the number of buildings from where children's services can be accessed.
Lancashire County Council has consulted on cutting the number of buildings from where children's services can be accessed.
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A Lancashire county councillor says the “psychological” importance of familiar surroundings should not be overlooked when decisions are made about proposed changes to children’s centres in the region.

Sobia Malik, who represents Burnley Central East, told a meeting of the county’s children’s scrutiny committee that there was a risk of some vulnerable families missing out on services - even if they were still being delivered from a different location.

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“Buildings...become safe places and they are the difference that makes the difference between people falling through the net and not falling through the net,” County Cllr Malik said.

“Where people have built up a feeling of trust and safety in a building, if you close it and [tell them to] go to a library...women who are vulnerable simply will not go.”

A public consultation was carried out over the summer into proposals to reduce the number of buildings where children’s services can be accessed from 76 to 57. £1.2 million has been cut from the department’s budget as part of package of savings approved earlier this year.

But cabinet member for health, Shaun Turner, told the meeting that 97 percent of children’s services are now delivered directly into families’ homes.

“Closure has to be done against a framework which sets out what provision there is locally. The key is that we want to make [the service] better,” County Cllr Turner said.

He also outlined a new strategy to integrate health and social services at a “neighbourhood” level and said that tight budgets were forcing organisations to work together to the benefit of the public.

County Cllr Malik also described as “chilling” the different child health profiles in her own division and neighbouring Ribble Valley - where the infant mortality rate is five times lower.

She described the neighbourhood focus as “eminently logical”, but said she hoped “nuanced vulnerabilities aren’t overlooked”.

In a statement issued after the meeting, Lancashire County Council said: “An eight-week consultation has been held to ask people and partner organisations to share their views on proposals to change the way the county council's children and family wellbeing service is delivered.

"The children and family wellbeing service is a key part of our plans, however the way the service works has changed. It's more about providing support direct to people in their home and using locations within the community.

"If approved, the proposal would mean we could provide the service from fewer buildings while maintaining support to children, young people and families in a variety of different ways.”