Lib Dems table motion on Nascot Lawn closure

Mark Watkin as opposition spokesperson for Children’s Services has tabled the following motion about the proposed closure of Nascot Lawn Childrens Respite and Care Centre.

It will be debated at the next meeting of the County Council in support of the petition which will be presented by parents and families who are dependant on the services provided by Nascot Lawn which is now due to shut down at the end of October.

Mark comments “The Government is talking about easing austerity. This cannot happen soon enough. The closure of Nascot Lawn is entirely due to the Government’s insistence that the Herts Valleys Clinical Commissioning Group reduce their expenditure by £45m p.a. In these circumstances it always seem to be the most vulnerable that suffer first and worst. While we wait for the Government to change its tune, the County Council MUST dip into its £3m underspend from last year to keep Nascot Lawn going until it has had sufficient time to assess how best to serve the needs of this group.”

Council notes:

That on Friday 16th June, Herts Valleys CCG informed families across Hertfordshire that they would no longer be funding its contribution of £600k towards Hertfordshire Community NHS Trust run Nascot Lawn Children’s Respite Service.  Consequently Nascot Lawn will be forced to close on 31st October 2017. (more…)

Council calls upon Government to reverse its policy on child refugees

Liberal Democrat Councillors successfully moved a motion at St Albans Full Council on Wednesday night calling on the Government to reverse its abandonment of the commitment to allow 3,000  unaccompanied refugee children into the UK.

Moving the motion, Councillor Anthony Rowlands said:

‘Our community and this Council have done excellent work in supporting Syrian refugees over the past two years. Groups, such as Herts for Refugees, have turned words into action and provided practical support both locally and in France.

‘Last May the government agreed to an amendment by Lord Dubs to the Immigration Bill to enable unaccompanied children to come to the UK.  It was understood that homes would be found for 3,000 children. Earlier this month the Home Office disgracefully back-tracked on this commitment  reducing that number to a shameful 350. (more…)

Conservatives admit that Home-Start cuts were made without any consultation with professional groups

Service users, Staff, Volunteers and Councillors alike were stunned to learn on Monday that a Conservative Councillor made the decision to cancel the £395,000 annual grant to HomeStart without any consultation with either HomeStart, the Health Visitor Service or the Children’s Services.

Monday’s scrutiny of the decision was the result of the Liberal Democrats on Hertfordshire County Council challenging the Conservative-run Cabinet on how and why the decision to axe the Homestart Service was made.

The Conservative Administration claims  that the 270 families whose support the County Council has been funding will be adequately served by the network of Children’s Centres, despite the fact that they are already reeling from a £1.8m cut in funding imposed in May 2015. The claim flies in the face of the fact that the number of families being referred to HomeStart by these same Children’s Centres and Health Visitors has been increasing year on year.

County Councillor Mark Watkin, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Children’s Services stated:  “I could not believe it. The families HomeStart supports are all assessed as having significant needs.  Health Visitors and staff at Children’s Centres do know about these families but don’t actually provide them with support. (more…)

Heated debate at county hall about Home-Start

This morning at County Hall there was a heated debate as local staff and volunteers watched to see the fate of the nine Homestart Schemes across the County.

After a petition signed by 2800 Hertfordshire residents was presented by Homestart three motions were presented; one from the Conservative group in favour of slashing funding to the service, and two from the Labour and Liberal Democrat benches seeking to save the Service.

The Conservative administration refused to listen to political arguments or the pleas of the Homestart staff and volunteers and voted three times to axe funding to this lifeline for vulnerable families.

Speaking with passion, and with with experience as a Home Start family support visitor, County councillor Sara Bedford (Abbots Langley) said, “I found a report moved by a certain young Cllr Gordon, when he was the Executive member for Children Schools and Families.

“I quote – ‘The schemes in Hertfordshire are well managed, deliver good outcomes and save money well in excess of funding for the schemes.’, I quote – ‘Providing more support at lower levels for children and families provide better outcomes because such children and families tend not to need higher level services’. (more…)

On Monday afternoon, a group of HomeStart Managers, volunteers, and families  with their young children watched in  dismay as the Conservative Cabinet of Hertfordshire County Council voted unanimously  not to renew its annual funding of £392,000 for the home visiting service. This decision would also cut off the £206,000 funding provided by the County’s Clinical Commissioning Groups resulting in a devastating reduction of £598,000 a year to HomeStart’s funds. The impact on HomeStart and its committed band of trained volunteers will be incalculable

In the report to Cabinet this service was described as popular with its service users.  It had proved that a charity staffed by volunteers could engage with hard-to-reach families whereas the  Children’s Centres could not.  In spite of this, the justification for these cuts, was that the need for home servicing had changed. Somehow the recently reorganised groups of Children’s Centres, themselves  struggling from having a £1.3 million cut in their funding together with the County’s recently restructured Health Visitor service will now be able to support those very families that in the past they had failed. How, was never explained nor how it would be paid for. While the contracted number of families supported is 395, the actual figure that HomeStart support is over 1,100. (more…)

Homestart update – Conservatives refuse to budge

Sandy Walkington and Chris White are supporting HomeStart in its campaign to maintain county council funding support

Sandy Walkington and Chris White are supporting HomeStart in its campaign to maintain county council funding support

At Thursday’s Children’s Services Cabinet Panel, 40 angry incredulous HomeStart managers, Chairs, volunteers and clients heard the Conservative members of the Children’s Services Cabinet Panel support the complete cut of support to the 9 HomeStart Branches in the county, worth £395,000 per annum from September 2015 as recommended by officers.  In so doing they voted down a motion from the Liberal Democrats that they should go to tender so that they could judge the relative value of the services HomeStart provide before making any final decision.

HomeStart  provides targeted support to over 700 families referred to it by Children’s Centres, Health Visitors, GPs, social workers and self-referrers. The common thread about these families, whatever issues they present, is that they are unable to access the services provided by these very professionals. It is claimed that in some unexplained way, apart from setting targets,  these professionals will now fill the gap left by HomeStart. Without this core funding, many of the HomeStart branches face financial crisis and may not be able to continue. (more…)

Conservatives attack Home Start services

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 £391,000 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. (more…)

St Claire’s update

Note from district council

A meeting was held with St Peter’s Ward Councillors , David Bogle and myself. It was agreed to send out the following agreed headlines to the Residents’ Association, St Claire’s Action Group and those residents who have contacted us with questions or comments.

  1. A meeting will be held next week between the Council and Hightown to discuss whether a lower density proposal with Council support through a grant is possible.
  2. If agreement is not reached between Council and Hightown on a lower density proposal, and if the Council decides not to support the original proposal then Hightown would look at alternative options for the building.
  3. In terms of further engagement with residents, Ward Councillors will continue to liaise with all residents in order to represent all views and be a point of contact for queries. The Council will assist with questions and keep the Residents Association and Action Group updated. Depending on how the above progresses this could include a further event an example of which might be an exhibition at which questionnaires could be made available.

Keeping Hertfordshire’s vulnerable children safe

Mark Watkin, Opposition Spokesperson for Children’s Services  met yesterday with Jenny Coles, Director of Children’s Services and Sue Williams, Operations Director of Safeguarding to  establish whether anything like what happened in Rotherham could be happening in Hertfordshire.  In their judgement and also the judgement of the Hertfordshire Police the answer is no.

One of the key factors in Rotherham was  that the Council used a large number of privately run homes as they are a relatively cheap way of housing teenagers  and failed to supervise what was going on in them. HCC uses far more foster carers looking after single  young people so co-ordinated abuse on the Rotherham scale is much more difficult to set up.

Mark comments “While one can never say that organised sexual abuse of children in Hertfordshire could never happen, I can say that the Children’s Services and the Police work extremely closely  to prevent anything like this happening to our children. I will continue to press the service’s leaders to ensure that there is no complacency in Children’s Services and I will challenge the status quo when it is not up to scratch.”

County failing young carers

“County failing its young carers”, admitted a senior Council Officer at Tuesday’s Children’s Services Cabinet Panel.

The County Council has estimated that there could be as many as 9000 young people who have to look after one or more of their parents, and of these 1200 have significant needs.

Of these 9000 young people who look after their parent(s), the County has been in contact with just 8% (727) and less than 2% (159) are being actively supported. Thousands of young Carers in Hertfordshire are being let down by the Conservative run County Council. (more…)