A RESOLVE not to abandon Cumbrian youngsters living in desperate circumstances may have saved dozens of children's centres from government cuts.

Recent figures brought to light the toll of austerity on Sure Start children's centres across the UK.

The Sutton Trust, an education and social mobility foundation, believe a staggering 1,000 children's centres have closed since 2010. This figure is double the official total made public by the government.

Throughout recent times of austerity Cumbria County Council has been hit hard by cuts to local authority budgets. However, of the 39 Sure Start centres in Cumbria in 2010, the same number remain eight years later.

Katie Clarke, strategic lead for children's centres in Cumbria, said: "2009 was the heyday for Sure Start. People measure what is happening now compared to 2009. Sure start was a passion of the government at the time, to have centres in every community.

"What then happened was the coalition government were going to hold a review of children's centres. The money for Sure Start stopped being ring-fenced and things became unsure. But, the review never happened.

"Nationally children's centres have been left in a kind of limbo since David Cameron stepped down following the Brexit vote."

Not all local authorities have been as fortunate as Cumbria County Council in keeping children's centres open. The Sutton Trust found by 2017 16 local authorities had closed 50 per cent of their children's centres.

Councils in West Berkshire, Camden, Stockport, Bromley, Oxfordshire and Staffordshire in the same time had closed more than 70 per cent of their centres.

Official figures say from August 2009 to October 2017 the number of children's centres declined from 3,632 to 3,123. However, The Sutton Trust believe this may be an underestimation of the scale of closures.

Sutton Trust founder, Sir Peter Lampl, said: "It is a serious issue that the services that Sure Start centres offer are much more thinly spread than they were a decade ago.

"Additionally, since 2010 there has been a precipitous decline of 30 per cent in the number of Sure Start centres. Thousands of families are missing out on the vital support they provide.

"The Government should complete its long-promised review of the programme. Instead of trying to serve all age groups, children's centres should reconnect with their original purpose of promoting child and family development for the 0-5 age group."

In order for Cumbrian children's centres to survive the council was forced to be more savvy in the way it organised its services.

Across the county Sure Start centres were organised into geographical 'footprints'. Since 2009 the number of children's centres has remained the same at 39, but the number of footprints in which they are found has been reduced from 39 to 28.

Tough decisions have been made to reduce the opening hours of centres county wide. This means services are no where near as accessible as they once were, but the trade off is those services are still available.

Ms Clarke said: "You may have had baby groups, for example, for when they start to crawl, there may have been more groups in children's centres that people could go to in their area. But, now you may not see that. Now the groups may be in the more deprived areas or areas of high need. In those kind of areas the services are prioritised."

Other changes have seen a move away from groups open during the week to more targeted sessions. Families who would most benefit from the support and guidance of a Sure Start centre are specifically invited, making sure help goes where it is most needed.

There are 21 children's centres spread across Barrow, Carlisle South Lakeland and Copeland. This breaks down into five, six, five and five local centres in each area respectively.

To ensure the positive work carried out by Sure Start centres in the county continue, the county council is to relaunch its plan for young people running from 2018-22. Laid out in the council's plan going forward, it has pledged to: "Continuing to protect Sure Start Children’s Centres and services focusing on families in greatest need as part of an anti poverty strategy that tackles the cycle of disadvantage; and retaining school clothing grants for children eligible for free school meals."

Ms Clark added: "The Sutton Trust really emphasised the importance of play and development for children. It is something which has really been prioritised. We know that some parents are really motivated and get all the information and know the best way to support their child. But, others may have not had that information before. A key role of Sure Start is to help all parents to be able to help their children."

'Fortunate' children's centres lucky councillors fight their corner

Lisa Scott is the assistant director for Action for Children in Cumbria, based in Barrow's Greengate Street. In her role she sees daily the vital work carried out at the children's centre, helping the people of Barrow.

She is grateful for the unwavering support from local councillors, fighting the corner for children's centres.

She said: "We are really fortunate in barrow that we have elected members that are fully behind us. The county council also seem to be with us 100 per cent.

"On a national front things do look really bad, which is why I think we're so fortunate in Barrow. The local council see it as a priority for local families."

In spite of centres in Cumbria remaining open, it has been far from an easy ride across the county.

Funding has shifted from central to local government, which has presented its own challenges in how children's centres can continue to deliver services.

Nicky Robley, children's services manager at Barnardo's in Carlisle, said this pressure has forced centres to focus on what they do best.

Barnardo's have five centres in Carlisle, including those at Petteril Bank, Harraby and Botcherby.

She said: "We've taken to learning. When there was lots of money it gave us more opportunities. Now that money is not as available to the same extent we have been able to pick out the services that we feel, and which families have told us, benefit them the most.

"The county council has seen value in our services and have continued to invest in us. We now work a lot more closely with partner agencies, we have social workers working from the building, we now run antenatal clinics working a lot closer with parents."

Council worked hard to preserve 'vital' local services

THE commitment of local councillors to the preservation of children's centres in Cumbria has been highlighted by those working on the front lines.

Compromises and concessions have been made across the county to scrimp, save and economise the process of providing vital community services.

One of the loudest voices in this battle has been that of councillor Anne Burns, Barrow Borough Councillor and the cabinet member for Children and Family Services on the county council.

She said: "We’re very committed to children’s centres, they play an important role in providing help and support to families who need it, and can help stop issues turning into problems.

"I’ve visited many centres over the years and seen first-hand the great work that they do and the positive difference they make to the lives of children and families.

"Unavoidably with reductions in government funding over the last 10 years, we have had to change how our children’s centres operate, with more targeted work and fewer universal services available to all.

"But, we’ve worked hard to ensure that we’ve kept the network of centres open, and providing a vital service, all across the county.”

Corbyn hits out at tax cuts for the rich as Sure Start stumbles

DETAILS of the reduction in the number of Sure Start centres across the country sparked fierce criticism of the government.

Using The Sutton Trust's announcement as a springboard, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn hit out at Conservative failings.

In a video posted on Twitter, Mr Corbyn, said: "The spending on children's and young people's services is nearly one billion pounds less than it was in 2012. The Conservatives have opted instead to give tax cuts to a wealthy elite.

"Across the country hundreds of Sure Start centres have closed and many of the ones that have survived have been forced to cut back on their services.

"Sure Start centres provide activities, resources and support to parents as well as their children. I'm proud that it was the last Labour government that introduced Sure Start centres."

Responding to the report, a government spokesman, said: "Councils will receive more than £200 billion for local services, including children and young people services, up to 2019-20.

"In addition to this we are investing more in childcare support than any other government - around £6 billion a year by 2019-20.

"It is right that we give councils the freedom to decide what services they provide for their communities as they are best placed to understand local needs and how best to meet them, whether through a children's centre building, a family hub, or another model."