Croydon Voluntary Action is the local umbrella organisation for voluntary sector groups and social enterprises in Croydon; we have a range of members working with families with children under 5 in the borough including play and education settings (such as Gingerbread Corner, Acorns2Oaks), groups working across ages in specific communities (like Empowering Tamil Families), faith groups (churches, mosques and temples) and host a range of ABCD (Asset Based Community Development) neighbourhood based and residents led initiatives. We have also been leading a partnership of 4 voluntary sector organisations as part of the Best Start programme for the last 4 years.
We appreciate the pressures that the present financial difficulties the Council is experiencing have on services for children under 5 and their families and the unfortunate decision to reduce Children Centres' delivery across the borough. However, we know that Early social/ emotional development and physical health provide the foundation upon which children develop. High quality early intervention services can change a child’s developmental trajectory cognitive and language skills and improve outcomes for children, families, and communities. The support of Children Centres can prevent problems from getting worse over time and provide families with knowledge, support and resources that will save money in the long-term. We have seen the impact of the closure of Youth centres across the boroughs ten years along the line in our own borough.
The feedback from our members is that families are angry at the suggested cessation of activities or closure of Children Centres, as more vulnerable and disadvantaged families will have no or less immediate access to local services that can provide them with parenting skills, give children an exciting environment to develop their curiosity and skills and prepare them to school.
We believe the Council can build on the strengths, assets and reach of Croydon’s voluntary and community sector (VCS); the restructure might be an opportunity for the 3 Children Centre hubs you are proposing to work more closely with the VCS, by making sure partnership work they initiate is less dispersive than before. They can do this, for example, by joining our Building Community Partnership meetings; since November 2020, well-attended online events have been held across the Integrated Community Network Plus (ICN+) six localities and the focus of these early events has been to give Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) organisations and Active Citizens the opportunity to share with each other and with Council and Health colleagues, information about:
- What they do? What are their strengths?
- What’s working well?
- What are the challenges being faced?
Involving Children Centres in such partnership discussions would be crucial and allow sharing of resources and knowledge.
Croydon VCS is very diverse and flexible in the way it responds to needs, as we have seen during the present COVID pandemic; we believe the Council should also utilise community based delivery in those areas where Children Centres will be permanently closed. These are areas where the presence of voluntary sector groups and social enterprises is limited, compared to other parts of the borough, and that are less central and well served by public transport. It is essential therefore to capitalise on existing community initiatives and support residents/parents/carers to build on their passions/strengths/gifts for the benefit of their neighbourhood. Extending the Best Start community based provision could offer residents the support/empowerment they need to do just that.