Parents, councillors and campaigners were shocked to learn that the Fields Children’s Centre in Abbey ward is set to make significant changes to how it operates from April 2018 due to the continuous funding cuts to children’s services and the loss of funding for the Children’s Centre.
In a letter to parents, dated 2 March, the governors explained that the Centre would close 2 hours earlier each day at 4 pm from April with a further move to term time only opening from September 2018. The letter additionally noted that it would move to a single Ofsted registration for the Nursery and DayCare services which could mean the closure of the baby room, which takes children from 3 months to 2 years old.
Cllr Richard Johnson, one of Abbey’s city councillors and the Executive Councillor for Communities at the City Council, who wrote to the County Council back in September of last year warning of the negative impact the children centre changes would have on families, said “I know that the governors will not have made these changes lightly but I am very concerned about the impact on families who use these highly valued services and also the very short timescale and notice given to parents. The current daycare provision from 8 am - 6 pm is invaluable for working parents, many of whom will struggle to find alternative wrap around daycare to suit their work pattern if the opening hours are shortened and especially if the move to term time only care is confirmed.
The potential loss of the baby room is of particular concern as it would leave parents with no alternative under 2’s provision in the local area. All these changes will hurt working parents. Abbey is a ward with significant levels of deprivation and the loss of services like those offered by The Fields could mean that parents will have to either make a sacrifice they can ill afford to adjust their working hours, or find alternative arrangements further away.”
Mrs Nicky Massey, who recently raised the almost £900,000 budget cut to Cambridgeshire’s Children’s Centres at the February County Council Full Council meeting, and is one of the leading parent campaigners nationally against children’s centres closures, said: “ Cuts to services provided and closures of children’s centres and nurseries have been happening all over the country but it’s still a shock when it happens on the doorstep and brings home how much parents need support to fight them. “
“The County Council said that “every child would thrive” under their proposals, and that services would be “flexible” to suit parents’ needs. It is now evident that this won’t be the case with the Fields Children’s Centre and that the combination of years of underfunding combined with the proposed loss of County funding for the Children’s Centre this year has left them in an unsustainable financial position. I hope that the County Council can meet with the Fields and work with them to maintain the current services which are so important to the families who use them.”
Mrs Massey is also urging parents across the county to sign a national petition against children’s centre closures with an aim of getting 100,000 signatures and forcing a Parliamentary debate on the issue. You can sign the petition here.
Daniel Zeichner has said: "The decision by the Fields Children Centre to reduce their operating hours is a direct consequence of the County Council shameful under-funding of early year's education and cutting children centre budgets."
"Just over a year ago I presented a petition to Parliament signed by many parents and supporters of schools, such as the Fields Children Centre, calling on the Government not to make changes to how early year's education is funded. That petition stated that the outcome of the changes would be the loss of early years provision in the city, as well as job losses for nursery staff. A year on, we are seeing this happening."
The changes at the Fields will no doubt be a major blow for parents in the area that rely on the centre to provide childcare so that they can continue to get to work. I will work with local councillors to support their efforts to try and minimise the damage for the local community and staff. Of course, one way that we could prevent any damage at all would be for the County Council to reverse its decision to implement the £900,000 children centre cuts."