Members of Hertfordshire County Council Children’s Services Cabinet Panel yesterday received additional papers announcing the withdrawal of the annual £391,000 grant to the 9 HomeStart operations which cover the county. Their role will now be added to the increasingly complex range of tasks to be handled by the 91 Children’s Centres.
By withdrawing the £391,00 annual grant to the nine HomeStart centres across the county on the basis that it could be supplied by Children’s Centres , the Conservative County Council is putting the future stability of 395 client families at risk. Without the close support of the Homestart volunteers who help them in their homes, many of these families will disintegrate. Likewise the local HomeStart teams will almost certainly have to close for lack of sufficient funding.
The County Council admit that through HomeStart the families receive 80,000 hours of support while they will only receive 25,000 hours per annum from Children’s Centres, and crucially the quality of this support will be fundamentally different. By its own admission the service provided by HomeStart is popular and wide ranging. The volunteers support these families and help them handle their problems which may cover social isolation, child behaviour management, children under 5 with disabilities, domestic abuse and drug and alcohol abuse to name but a few.
The responsibility for these services will pass to the overstretched network of Children’s Centres which are themselves reeling from a 14% cut in fees, and have just been reorganised in the last few weeks with a completely new management structure. They will not have the resources needed to give the quality support these families desperately need.
Liberal Democrat County Councillor Mark Watkin commented “I am horrified by this decision. At a stroke, a financially lead decision is destroying a long-standing and experienced network of skilled managers and volunteers and replacing them with an untried service struggling after a complete reorganisation which only came into effect a few weeks ago. The Liberal Democrats on HCC are opposed to this backwards step for the the most vulnerable families in Hertfordshire. The fundamental failing of this decision is that HomeStart is successful because its volunteers are trusted by their clients and are seen as being separate from the County’s Social Services with all the stigma that that carries. I predict a significant proportion of their clients will have nothing to do with Children’s Centres.