Oxfordshire churches and Christian organisations want to fill the gaping void left by the County Council’s decision to shut children’s centres across the region.
Oxfordshire County Council is under huge financial pressure and is seeking to save millions of pounds from its early intervention budget by closing 26 of its 44 children’s centres. The closures will leave a large hole in service provision, affecting more than 19,000 children.
Now, the Diocese of Oxford and the Doorsteps network is looking to take on some of the responsibilities previously held by the County Council.
Doorsteps is a network of local churches and Christian charities, working together to reach vulnerable children and families. It was created and is supported by Viva.
Katy Thompson of Doorsteps said: “These cuts give our churches an incredible opportunity and a God-given duty to provide desperately needed support to local families and to put churches at the heart of community life – showcasing the church at its best, responding in proactive and relevant ways.”
A letter has gone out to all MPs in the county from Doorsteps, signed by Mark Stavers, (Viva CEO) Bishop Colin Fletcher (Bishop of Dorchester) and more than 20 pastors, vicars and Christian charity representatives based in Oxfordshire.
It states: “In the last three years Doorsteps research in Oxfordshire convincingly identified unstable family life and struggling parents as one of the top three most significant issues facing local children and young people. You will be aware that in Oxfordshire there are over 500 children who have been taken into care, a number that his risen by 10% over the last couple of years. They are amongst the most vulnerable in our society, a situation highlighted by the Bullfinch Serious Case Review.”
Doorsteps will plan a way forward at its autumn conference on Saturday 5 November at the Church Mission Society Centre in Oxford (10am-4pm).
Maria Godfrey, Early Intervention Manager at Oxfordshire County Council, will attend the conference, along with representatives from the Diocese of Oxford, Balsam Family Project, Viva, St Andrew’s Cutteslowe project, Thrive, 4 Family, Fusion Wheatley, Cinnamon Network, Home for Good, The FASD Trust, NOMAD Henley and the Christian Life Centre, Cowley.
Katy (right) said: “The aim is to inspire, connect and equip churches to reach out to vulnerable families in the community, in light of Local Authority closures of children’s centres.
“We want to identify priorities and how best to work together to plug the gaps. We will look at the possibility of partnerships of community groups and churches taking some children’s centres on.”
Despite making major cuts, Oxfordshire County Council has pledged £1m to help community groups develop proposals for local children and family support schemes.
To order a free ticket to the important Doorsteps conference go to doorstepsconference2016.eventbrite.co.uk