Mum ‘Devastated’ By County Council Decision To Close 19 Sites
Legal experts representing a mum “devastated” by Buckinghamshire County Council’s decision to close more than half of its children’s centres have launched High Court legal action to overturn the move.
Buckinghamshire County Council decided in March to close 19 of the 35 centres it operates across the county. The remaining centres will be restructured into ‘Family Centres’ offering a different model of provision.
Following the decision, a 32-year-old woman, who has chosen to remain anonymous to protect her children’s privacy, and who gave birth to her youngest son in January, instructed Irwin Mitchell’s specialist Public Law and Human Rights team to investigate.
She attends Millbrook Children’s Centre in High Wycombe, almost every day for stay and play sessions with her son. The mum also uses the centre for general emotional support and practical advice on issues including housing and benefits.
Her legal team believe that the plan could amount to a breach of the Childcare Act 2006 and the Equality Act 2010. Lawyers have launched a judicial review challenging the legality of the plans in the High Court.
A hearing is to take place on 13 June, at which the court will be asked to make an order preventing the council from taking any further steps to implement the closures.
Expert Opinion“Children’s centres provide vital support to families in a range of situations and our client and her son have benefitted greatly from the access to the services at Millbrook.
“However, the planned closure of the site and the wider proposals to completely reshape services across the county will make it much harder for families with young children in the area to get the support they need.
“They and many other families have found the current situation hugely distressing and we believe the council should have done more when considering this issue. We are now determined to ensure that our client gets their voice heard on this emotive matter.” James Betts - Associate Solicitor
The changes are due to come into effect in September this year. They would mean that the remaining centres would no longer solely support those with children up to the age of five and instead focus on a wider age range up to 19. Furthermore, the open access support that the family relies on would only be made available at three sites in the region.
Irwin Mitchell has challenged the decision on several grounds, including that the consultation process was ultimately unfair with some public statements even suggesting the matter was pre-determined.
The legal experts also believe it amounts to a breach of the duty to ensure there are sufficient child care services across Buckinghamshire. They have also argued that there has been a failure to consider statutory guidance from the Department for Education on children’s centres which sets out the presumption that centres should not be closed.
Discussing the personal implications of the plans, the mum said: “The staff at Millbrook have had a huge impact on my life, helping me when times have been tough with a range of support. To lose that would be completely devastating.
“They are like family, to the point where staff even attended hospital appointments and scans. Since my son was born we have also headed along to play sessions and courses on bonding with your baby. Put simply, I would be lost without them.
“It is hard to believe that this decision could have been taken and I just want to ensure the council has properly considered all aspects. These closures will have a huge impact on the local community, affecting me and many others too.”
Parents and local residents in the area set up a campaign group, Save Buckinghamshire’s Children’s Centres, two years ago to fight the council’s plans.
Lead campaigner, Alka Dass said: ‘‘Our aim is to keep all 35 children’s centres open so that families have access to vital support and services that they need. These centres are a lifeline for many families and their children and closing all of these is not the solution. We need money invested into them so they can help more and more families – our voices need to be heard.”
“We have been campaigning in Bucks for the last two years, we want an end put to this and for the council to put a halt to this decision. There are many parents like this mother who do not want their centre to disappear and who rely on them heavily.”
For more information visit www.facebook.com/groups/savebuckinghamshireschildrenscentres/