Thirteen children’s centres in Rotherham are facing the axe – affecting nearly 2,500 youngsters and their families.
Proposals to be discussed by councillors today will leave the town with nine remaining centres, producing savings over two years of £2.2 million.
The current budget for the network and other services for under-fives is just over £5 million a year – but Government cuts mean this must be reduced to £2.8m by 2016.
A compulsory 45-day consultation period is set to begin today to assess the impact of the changes, with closures beginning to come into force in April.
Views will be sought from the public, staff, schools, childcare workers and other experts in the field.
The cutbacks mirror ones already introduced across Sheffield, as the number of centres reduced from 36 to just 17 last year.
Services in Rotherham are mainly targeted at more than 8,500 under-fives from a range of vulnerable groups, including teenage parents, single mums and dads, disabled parents, disabled children and ethnic minorities.
A council report proposes that families unable to easily get to the centres that are left should instead be served by a new outreach service, providing health, social care and education.
Other families may be forced to fall back on the voluntary sector and independent childcare providers, it admits.
Councils were encouraged to develop comprehensive networks of children’s centres covering every area in their authority during the years of the Blair government.
Rotherham’s centres currently target more than 8,500 youngsters in the borough, out of a total of nearly 15,500.
The blueprint for the future will see the nine remaining buildings reorganised to create seven centres covering larger areas of the town than before.
But the report warns: “There will be an impact on the quality and quantity of the service provided by the early years and childcare service.”
It is expected that the scale of the reorganisation will take several months, which means the bulk of the savings will be made in 2015-16.
The Star contacted Coun Paul Lakin, cabinet member for children and young people at Rotherham Council, but he declined to comment on the proposals.