COUNCILLORS have been reassured that a proposed £167,000 budget cut for ‘early help’ children’s support will not affect front-line services.

Cheshire East Council’s budget plans include making the saving from 2021-22, designed at changing the way the services run at a local level.

But CEC’s early help services were praised by Ofsted inspectors following a recent inspection – although the council’s overall children’s services were rated as ‘requiring improvement’.

Ofsted found that since its 2015 and 2018 visits, CEC’s ‘early help services have improved, enabling more children and families to access timely and appropriate support’.

At a scrutiny meeting on Thursday, the same day the Ofsted report was published, Conservative Cllr Janet Clowes said: “What did come out of that executive summary was the praise for our early help services.

Winsford Guardian:

“I just wonder – is this the right time to be looking to make savings in that area?”

Early help services are designed to support younger vulnerable children through earlier intervention, to prevent them entering the care system later in their childhood.

Cllr Liz Wardlaw, chairman of the health and adult social care scrutiny committee, added that members of that panel shared concerns about the proposed saving.

In particular, she said that members were concerned about the ‘compounded effects’ of that budget cut alongside three more that are proposed:

  • A £150,000 budget cut for the FACT 22 safeguarding scheme for children in need across Crewe and Macclesfield
  • A £150,000 budget cut for the Healthy Child Programme for 0 to 19-year-olds, and
  • A 20 per cent cut in CEC’s contribution to the Cheshire Youth Justice Service, worth £90,000 over the next two years.

But Mark Palethorpe, acting executive director of people at CEC, insisted that the cut to the early help budget would not affect front-line resources.

He said: “The investment in early help clearly is a significant factor in the support that we get to our young children and the impact that has on their journey in life.

Winsford Guardian:

“What this proposal is looking to do is focus more around our interface with education, using the facilities that we have, but also working with children’s social care to make sure that the most vulnerable children that need that support earlier is coordinated in that locality.

“We wouldn’t need as many managers doing what we have at the moment, and therefore that is where the saving would come from. This is not looking to reduce front-line services.”

Mr Palethorpe added that he could talk to cabinet members about further investment into front-line early help services for vulnerable children – a suggestion welcomed by Cllr Jos Saunders, chairman of CEC’s children and families scrutiny committee.

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She said: “When further on we are putting a rather huge amount into cared-for children, I would rather we put in that early help and hopefully reduce the amount of children going into care.

“I don’t dispute that some children need to go into care, we all know that, but I do think the investment into early help is very much needed.”