By Local Democracy Reporter Simon Finlay
The likely loss of youth services across Kent to save money for a cash-strapped council has been met by an outpouring of dismay in a newly-published report.
Respondents to a consultation have expressed fears closure of established facilities could impact users’ mental health as well as sparking a rise in gang crime.
The report’s findings were released following a two-month consultation over the summer.
The Government asked Kent County Council (KCC) to trial a scheme, aiming to bring a number of services under one umbrella called a “Family Hub”.
But the new funding model could see the end of subsidies for youth clubs and activities currently commissioned by KCC but run by non-KCC organisations.
The council, squeezed by falling government funding and rising costs, must find tens of millions of pounds in savings this year and another £86m in 2024/25, according to the auditors Grant Thornton.
The comprehensive report into how the potential loss of services will affect communities has been compiled by Lake Marketing.
On November 21, members of the Children’s and Young People’s Cabinet Committee will consider the report, although the KCC Cabinet has already given it the green light.
The committee can agree to a number of recommended options, including approving the Family Hub, but none to reject the idea.
KCC has warned that due to its financial pressures, funding may have to cease in some cases, leaving those groups no alternative but to find other funding arrangements.
Earlier this year, Ramsgate’s Pie Factory Music’s CEO Zoë Carassik-Lord said: “We fail to see how the Family Hub proposal as it currently stands will satisfy KCC’s statutory duty to provide sufficient educational and recreational leisure-time activities for young people. After a decade of cuts to local youth services exceeding 70%, and at a time of increased need and demand for youth services, it is not reasonable to further cut such services.”
Young people and staff from Pie Factory Music held a protest in August against the proposed cuts which will mean a loss of 45% of Pie Factory’s income, hitting the services it provides in Thanet and Dover.
Some 100 young people use those services and clubs every week but if the income is lost it will be “the end of open access youth work,” said Pie CEO Zoë Carassik-Lord.
Funding cuts to commissioned youth services will also hit The Pavilion Youth & Community Café in Broadstairs and have a “life changing” impact on hundreds of young people and families, says manager Victoria Suchak.
The Pavilion hosts four youth sessions each week alongside family clubs, baby groups, mornings attended by grandparents and a range of events, trips and professional skills to help with mental health, sexual health, drug and alcohol abuse and work with children in care.
But Kent County Council proposals to withdraw funding for commissioned youth services by next March will see the loss of half The Pavilion’s income. The other half, provided by the Colyer-Fergusson Trust, ends in November.
Victoria (pictured) said: “We get at least 20 children every day and have extended delivery from two to four sessions per week.
“The money from KCC, which has stayed the same over the seven years we have received it, pays for two of the sessions so it is vital.
“The money is really important to us as we employ professional youth workers but what they are saying is they expect it to be voluntary work.”
Ashford Youth Hub members aged 12-16 took part in the consultation and said they prefer safe spaces, such as managed buildings, to meet face to face.
One parent said: “There are a lot of people here that will suffer if you stop these activities. youths will end up bored and getting into trouble instead.”
At Canterbury Academy, where Pyxis, Spring Lane Youth club, Riverside Youth, Riverside Neuro diverse group and others hold sessions, participants voiced concerns at the potential loss of their amenities.
One parent commented: “For my son, access to this service has been of paramount importance to his emotional wellbeing and, at times, safety.”
Another said: “Pyxis is the only organisation we have used (and we have tried many services) that actually makes a real difference and lasting impact on the lives of young autistic people.”
In Folkestone and Hythe, several groups could be affected such as the Hythe Youth Centre and Shepway Autism Support Group.
Half of those consulted said they would miss out on socialising and friendships made through the groups, the report notes.
Services currently offered by children’s centres, youth hubs, health visiting and midwifery care would be delivered and funded through the Family Hub.
These are: parent-infant relationships and mental health support for new parents; infant feeding support; parenting support; early language development and home learning; support for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and safeguarding.
The KCC reports states: “KCC is committed to delivering the best outcomes through a hybrid of universal and targeted support for children, young people, and their families, delivering services identified through the Family Hub guidance. This will include a community-based universal offer to provide information and advice on child and adolescent development.”
Papers suggest that failure to adopt the Family Hub model would mean the loss of an additional £11m of funding.
Cllr Mark Dance said the eventual savings to be made through the adoption of the Family Hub model will be driven by the rationalisation of the property attached to the services delivered and how much can be mitigated by outreach work.
There were 908 resident responses to the consultation questionnaire, two thirds of whom were female, to questionnaires during the KCC consultation process which ran from July to September this year.
The 11 areas under review have been:
- Activities for children aged 0-5
- Activities for older children and young people
- Education for parents on child development
- Information, advice and guidance about support services for children and young people with Special Education Needs and Disabilities (SEND)
- Information and signposting to mental health services (children and adults)
- Support and information for parents / carers of adolescents
- Online safety for children and young people
- Domestic abuse support
- Debt and welfare advice
- Support for young people with substance misuse (alcohol / drugs)
- Signposting to information to support separating and separated parents
In October last year, Kent was identified as a ‘Transformation Authority’ and selected by the government as a ‘Trailblazer’ for the national Family Hubs and Start for Life Programme.
It means an overhaul of children’s centre services, youth services and health visiting, which will deliver cost savings with KCC saying these will work alongside community-based midwifery care, bringing them together and making them easier to access.
Of the 11 proposed Family Hub services presented to consultees, the most used are those for children under five for children (70%) and activities for older children and young people (48%).
Respondents showed interest in information and signposting to mental health services (69%), activities for under-fives (65%) and information, advice and guidance about support services for children and young people with SEND (62%).
Family hub plan
The family hub plan could mean services cut at The Pavilion and Pie Factory Music, the closure of Callis Grange children’s centre in Broadstairs and Priory children’s centre in Ramsgate. Courses at Broadstairs Adult Education Centre are earmarked to end with a relocation to Broadstairs library and services for adults with learning disabilities will no longer be held at Hartsdown Leisure Centre but will be moved to proposed ‘community hub’ sites.
On the youth commissioning cuts KCC says: “This is due to the financial pressures the council is facing. This means that some activities and clubs would stop unless the organisations are able to find alternative funding. We are keen to hear from service users how the proposed changes might affect them.”
Additional reporting Kathy Bailes