Children could get depressed, engage in anti-social behaviour, or even be enticed into street gangs if expected cuts to youth services go ahead, parents have warned.
A report into the findings of a two-month consultation on Kent County Council’s (KCC’s) proposals has painted a stark picture of the impact the cost-saving measures could have.
The government wants the authority to trial a scheme, aiming to bring a number of services under one umbrella called a “Family Hub”.
But the new funding model could see the end of subsidies for KCC-commissioned youth clubs and activities
Some 80 commissioned groups are at risk as it ooks to save £900,000 a year from its budget.
The council, squeezed by falling government funding and rising costs, must find tens of millions of pounds in savings this year and another £86m in 2024/25, according to the auditors Grant Thornton.
The comprehensive report, compiled by Lake Marketing, wil be considered by members of the Children’s and Young People’s Cabinet Committee on Tuesday (November 21) although the KCC cabinet has already given it the green light.
The committee can agree to a number of recommended options, but none include rejecting the idea outright.
KCC has warned that, due to financial pressures, funding may be pulled in some cases, leaving those groups no alternative but to find other funding arrangements.
Ashford Youth Hub members aged 12-16 took part in the consultation and said they prefer safe spaces, such as managed buildings, to meet face-to-face.
It is one of a number of groups asked for feedback in the Lake survey.
One parent said: “There are a lot of people here that will suffer if you stop these activities. Youths will end up bored and getting into trouble instead.”
Another added: “It's one thing my vulnerable autistic child has been able to do with no financial burden on us and she's made welcome, taught new skills and socialising with a mix of ages. The volunteers and staff are so great and supportive of us and her.”
At Canterbury Academy – where Pyxis, Spring Lane Youth Club, Riverside Youth, Riverside Neuro diverse group and others hold sessions – participants voiced concerns at the potential loss of their amenities.
“There are a lot of people here that will suffer if you stop these activities. Youths will end up bored and getting into trouble instead...”
One parent commented: “For my son, access to this service has been of paramount importance to his emotional wellbeing and, at times, safety.”
Another said: “Pyxis is the only organisation we have used (and we have tried many services) that actually makes a real difference and lasting impact on the lives of young autistic people.”
In Folkestone and Hythe, several groups could be affected such as the Hythe Youth Centre and Shepway Autism Support Group.
Half of those consulted said they would miss out on socialising and friendships made through the groups, the report notes.
One parent said: “These services are essential for providing young people with a safe and supportive space to learn, grow, and develop.”
In Gravesend, groups such as Higham Youth Club and Youth Job Club meet at The Grand.
In feedback, a parent noted: “My child loves meeting people his own age. I cannot afford to pay for expensive days out or clubs.
“I like to know he is in an environment which is safe where he can meet mates. He's not on the streets getting enticed into a street gang.”
Also under threat is the group Gifted Young Gravesham at The Grand.
Local Gravesham Councillor and leader of the Labour group at KCC Lauren Sullivan said: “The proposals as they stand will decimate existing youth provision at a time when young people are most in need of support.”
In Maidstone, one parent facing the loss of facilities such as the Shepway Youth and Community Centre and Parkwood Youth Centre, complained: “My children would become depressed. I wouldn’t know where they are if there was no space for them to go with their friends.
“Crime rates will rise.”
Earlier this year, Ramsgate’s Pie Factory Music’s CEO Zoë Carassik-Lord said: “We fail to see how the Family Hub proposal as it currently stands will satisfy KCC’s statutory duty to provide sufficient educational and recreational leisure-time activities for young people.
“After a decade of cuts to local youth services exceeding 70%, and at a time of increased need and demand for youth services, it is not reasonable to further cut such services.”
Services currently offered by children’s centres, youth hubs, health visiting and midwifery care would be delivered and funded through the Family Hub.
These are: parent-infant relationships and mental health support for new parents; infant feeding support; parenting support; early language development and home learning; support for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and safeguarding.
The KCC reports states: “KCC is committed to delivering the best outcomes through a hybrid of universal and targeted support for children, young people, and their families, delivering services identified through the Family Hub guidance. This will include a community-based universal offer to provide information and advice on child and adolescent development.”
Papers suggest that failure to adopt the Family Hub idea would mean the loss of an additional £11m of funding.
Rebecca O’Neill, CEO of Swale’s Brogdale CIC group, which offers employment for disabled children across six sites, said the cost to her organisation and its partners will be £103,000.
She added: “For that, we deliver services to 2,000 young people but in the long run it will cost KCC very much more. It is so short-sighted and they should have listened to the voices of the young people.”
There were 908 resident responses to the consultation questionnaire, two-thirds of whom were female, to questionnaires during the KCC consultation process which ran from July to September this year.
In October last year, Kent was identified as a ‘Transformation Authority’ and selected by the government as a ‘Trailblazer’ for the national Family Hubs and Start for Life Programme.
It means an overhaul of children’s centre services, youth services and health visiting, which will deliver cost savings with KCC saying these will work alongside community-based midwifery care, bringing them together and making them easier to access.
Of the 11 proposed Family Hub services presented to consultees, the most used are those for children under five (70%) and activities for older children and young people (48%).