Family support service Home Start St Albans loses Herts county council funding

Home Start St Albans faces closure

Home Start St Albans faces closure - Credit: Archant

A city family support service is to be scrapped after children’s services bosses voted to withdraw funding, saving just under £400k, in a move that has been dubbed “ludicrous.”

Supporters of Home Start St Albans have hit out after Herts County Council decided to drop the home visiting service “completely out of the blue”.

The charity currently helps over 100 families throughout the district, equating to around 200 children and employs five members of staff as well as 55 volunteers.

Scheme manager, Suzy Moody, said: “We only received an email on Tuesday to say it was proposed to be closed and then the cabinet met on the Thursday.

“It was very shocking as we only had a meeting with them three months ago and we had a time frame laid out and the agreement was for it to go to tender so it came completely out of the blue.

“I think the way it has been done has been pretty atrocious and other children’s centres in the area just don’t have the capacity to pick things up. “Our focus is to intensive intervention by visiting families two or three days each week and no other statutory service or otherwise is able to support people in the same way.

“They might be registered to a support centre but they won’t hear someone from a while and it is a concern as we help a lot of vulnerable families who would just end up on a waiting list.”

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A report by council officers states that as there has been “an increase in services provided by the children’s centres’ programme”, including “an expansion of free nursery education and a recently enhanced health visiting service”, there is a wide enough variety of support already available to parents.

But chairwoman Jill Rothwell challenged this claim.

She said: “This is a ludicrous suggestion. Other services are under pressure and making referrals to Home-Start.

“Over 40% of our referrals are from health visitors due to gaps in their service offering.

“Many of the families we work with are isolated and wouldn’t ever attend a children’s centre.

“Our volunteers can establish a unique rapport with their families that another service could never create.

“We need to develop the service not cut it.”

Richard Roberts, cabinet member for Children’s Services, said: “We will continue to work with our partners in health, community groups and the voluntary sector to help parents give their children the best possible start in life.

“Families who currently receive the home visiting service will be offered alternative support through their local children’s centre, which can reach out to families who need the most support.”

“Our budget is facing huge pressures, but I am convinced that the new arrangements will continue to provide high quality support for children and families, while saving Herts taxpayers £390,000 a year from 2016/17.”

The decision will go to a final panel for approval on July 13 and in the meantime a petition has been launched to raise local support for funding.

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