CHILD services in the Rochford district face a shake up with full-time children’s centres in the area set to be cut by 50 per cent, it has emerged.

Plans laid out in Essex County Council’s consultation on Sure Start centres would see one of the district’s two 50-hour-a-week centres closed.

The plans are part of county hall’s consultation on reducing the number of Sure Start centres across Essex from 37 down to just 12.

In south Essex alone they currently run ten main Sure Start sites - full-time centres - and 13 other delivery sites - part-time bases.

Were the county council’s plans to get the go-ahead the countywide numbers would drop to just four and six respectively, with one family hub and three delivery sites being located in the Rochford district specifically.

Essex county councillor for children and adult services, Dick Madden, said: “Please remember, this is a consultation.

“We want to share our proposals with families and hear what they have to say.

“That way we can make sure that we are doing the right thing, at the right time and in the right place for those people that need it the most.”

County hall has faced accusations that these proposed changes are simply cost-cutting measures, an assertion Mr Madden refutes.

He added: “This is about doing the right thing for families.

“During the last two years of engagement we learnt that 30% of families that most needed our services were not being reached so holding on to inflexible venues at inflexible times could be a hindrance and poor use of resources.

“Our proposals are based on the need to reach our most vulnerable residents by being flexible enough to reach locations we couldn’t reach before.”

The consultation, even with a month still left to run, has already faced a backlash.

An e-petition calling on Mr Madden to rethink plans to close the centres has already got nearly 10,000 signatures.

Margaret Montgomery, of Rayleigh, is one of those to have signed, she said: “These centres are a lifeline for many people and are cost effective as they can help to solve problems early in a child's life.

“If left, these could become more complex problems resulting in the need for more support for the family.”

Mum-of-two Sally Robarts, also of Rayleigh, was not impressed by the plan to close a full-time centre.

She said: “I think this kind of support network is vital to young families and mothers.

“In a world where families are living further and further away from one another and we have parents raising kids with no outside family help, these centres are a lifeline.”

Fellow mum-of-two Kassie Wharton, of Rayleigh, is a user of the current services and does not want them to change.

She said: “I have two children under two and love everything the children's centres offer. It would be awful for this to stop.”

Residents can complete the consultation, which runs until Sunday, April 10, at

Proposed changes:

  • Oak Tree, Rayleigh (currently a main site, open for 50 hours a week) – converted to become a Family Hub
  • Wishing Well, Rochford (currently a main site open for 50 hours a week) – close and make into a ‘Family Hub Delivery Site’
  • Sea Shells, Great Wakering (currently a delivery site open for 15 hours a week) – close and make into a ‘Family Hub Delivery Site’
  • Willows, Hullbridge (currently a delivery site open for 15 hours a week) – close and make into a ‘Family Hub Delivery Site’
  • Ladybird, Rayleigh (currently a delivery site open for 15 hours a week) – close and offer it as a new childcare opportunity

What is a family hub?

  • One in each district in Essex, which will be open 50 hours a week
  • Delivers a range of support services and activities
  • Co-ordinate all of the support and services for families with children from pregnancy up to the age of 19
  • Those working in the Family Hubs will help you find out where you can most easily access the support you need in your local area

What is a Family Hub Delivery Site?

  • Local places and buildings that residents have told county they use
  • They will offer services for 20–30 hours a week, including weekends
  • Places where different people from different organisations who support children and families already work
  • By making these locations part of county hall’s plans residents can get more information in one visit from a team that’s works as one and gives them better support

How it's being done in Southend

THE Echo told yesterday (Tuesday, March 15) that Southend Council, who are responsible for children’s centres in the borough, had a plan in place to preserve their centres.

Anne Jones, Southend councillor for children and learning, said the plan would ensure the centres remain open and financially secure, as well as protecting the council’s early years childhood services.

The plan will see management ‘streamlined’ - with job losses not ruled out.

Mrs Jones said her authority, rather than closing centres like Essex County Council, want to maintain the centres but admitted the services will be “delivered in a different way”.

She said differing operating methods and organisations in the nine centres across Southend meant there were inefficiencies.

She wants to see a consistency in staff salaries and structures put in place so that staff’s abilities are not restricted.

Another option to maintain the running of all nine centres, discussed by the borough council’s cabinet, is the possibility of setting up a charitable trust to run them.