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Children’s charity appeals to county to reconsider budget cuts

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FROME’S local NCT branch, a charity dedicated to working with parents, is asking Somerset County Council to reconsider its budget cuts to children’s services, saying they will have a severe impact on children’s development.

In response to the news that Somerset County Council has put forward proposals to cut 130 jobs and reduce services across the board, including children’s services, Frome NCT and Baby Cafe has appealed to four county councillors and MP David Warburton, asking them to reconsider the cuts, but with no response.

Frome NCT is a branch of the NCT; the country’s largest charity for parents. They offer a network for local parents to gain practical and emotional support to build a stronger society.

Frome NCT runs three weekly groups: a toddler group, a Bumps and Babies group and Baby Café, a feeding support group with a qualified breastfeeding counsellor. They also run a sling library twice a month, have a hire scheme for maternity wear and work with other local charities and health professionals to provide donated baby items to those who need them.

Charlotte Pidgeon, Frome NCT branch coordinator, wrote a letter to county councillors stating, “We feel that these cuts will impact the most vulnerable and leave Frome without vital services. We ask that you please reconsider these proposals and try to find alternative ways to make reductions to your budget.

“We are concerned that our services will no longer be able to meet the needs of local parents due to an increase in demand. Over the summer holidays, when there was only one health visitor clinic running, we saw a huge increase in the number of parents visiting our Baby Café. This placed considerable strain on volunteers and resources and could not be maintained long term. 

“Frome may appear to be affluent but in fact 1 in 20 Frome residents live in one of the 20% most deprived areas of England, this is above the average for Somerset. Compared with Somerset, Frome also has a relatively higher proportion of children and a higher percentage claiming benefit.

“Your (Somerset County Council) proposals include savings of around £1.7million from the Get Set scheme through a reduction in staff numbers. We fear this may lead to the closure of Somerset’s remaining children’s centres as there will be no staff available to keep the buildings open or run vital support groups ­– particularly those at The Key Centre in Frome. 

“The Key Centre not only provides free weekly groups, including health visitor clinics and a breastfeeding support group, but it also hosts activities from other local charities including Fair Frome and the Friends of the Mount, Marston and Keyford. These charities provide holiday clubs, buggy walks and a community garden, amongst many other things. 

“The first 1,000 days of being a parent are now accepted to be the most significant in a child’s development. Leading child health experts worldwide agree that care given during the first 1,000 days has more influence on a child’s future than any other time in their life.

“Investment in this time is crucial for a happy, healthy and more equal society. We understand the very difficult decisions you face in making these budget reductions and that these cuts come as part of a national crisis in local authority spending. We just ask that you do all you can to mitigate the impact of these cuts on the most vulnerable.”

In response, through an enquiry made by Frome Times, a spokesperson for Somerset County Council said, “The reasons for the pressures on our finances are well-documented – falling funding and rising demand and costs. The council has to balance its budget and live within its means and that has meant some very difficult decisions because we cannot afford to do everything that we currently do.

“We understand that preventative work benefits families and the entire public sector. It’s not about whether or not these services are important, it’s about who can afford to pay for them.

“None of the proposals agreed by Cabinet will mean the council is not fulfilling its statutory duties. We will, of course, work with partners and others, to limit the impacts of the decisions wherever possible but we have to focus the resources we have on the services that provide a direct impact and prevent social care intervention.”

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