THEY are the charities and organisations providing a lifeline to the most needy and vulnerable children in Southampton.
Every week hundreds of youngsters rely on their services, which include supporting children with learning difficulties, special educational needs and disabilities, helping youths conquer substance misuse and young carers get respite from difficulties at home.
Scores of children forced to flee violent homes and seek refuge with their mothers in a safe environment are also helped while thousands of pounds are spent in a bid to drive down the city’s teenage pregnancy rate.
But today 25 organisations find themselves at the heart of the biggest cuts to children’s services the city has ever seen.
The department has been ordered to cut £7m from its £39m budget – but around £24m of that money is devoted to vital social care and schools meaning it cannot be touched.
It has left bosses with a financial headache about how to slash around 45 per cent of the cash they have left over, of which £1.6m is spent buying services for young people from outside organisations.
In many cases, the city is proposing to cut its financial ties with them completely and the services will no longer be available.
Council chiefs who have spent a year looking at how to save money are keen to stress the proposals are exactly that – and far from set in stone while a 90-day consultation gets under way with providers and users.
But they also know that the money must be saved somewhere.
If the plans go ahead ten groups will no longer receive money from the council to run their services. They are: n Ansbury and Catch 22, which both provide support for youths aged 14-16 and are used by a total of 85 children.
- Choices, a local charity helping youngsters with learning difficulties.
- Community Playlink’s toy mobile service.
- Hants and IOWYouth Options, which provides residential breaks and support to 56 youngsters aged 8-13.
- Play Association, a national charity working in three city schools helping groups of 30 children at a time.
- The Prince’s Trust, which runs three schemes for a total of 94 children aged between 14 and 18.
- Weston Church Youth Project, which runs support sessions for youngsters ranging from age 8-16.
- YMCA, which has a base in the city and runs a mentoring scheme for children at Fairthorne Manor with up to eight users at a time.
But among the hardest to be hit is Southampton Voluntary Services’ Young Carers Project, which gives respite to 120 children who care for others at home.
They stand to lose their entire £89,000 support that potentially means the end of the line for the scheme.
The death knell for the project, which was launched around 15 years ago with contributions from Children In Need, was revealed to angry parents by letter and has sparked an outcry.
Youngsters attend fortnightly sessions where, their parents say, they get the chance to mix with other youngsters in the same position as themselves and be children once again – for just a couple of hours.
Mum Lisa Dussill’s two sons, Max, 9, and John, 11, have been attending the project for 18 months after they were referred by a social worker.
Ms Dussill, 29, from Lower Brownhill Road in Millbrook, suffers severe bouts of depression and sometimes cannot get out of bed. She said: “They have to deal with everything when I am ill, from getting themselves dressed and fed to getting to school. They care for me and make sure I have food and drink and they are wonderful children.
“Once every two weeks they are taken to SVS where they get to be with many other children whose parents have illnesses and disabilities. They have the chance to socialise and have fun which they might not get at home. It’s so important – it’s the chance for them to be children again and the possibility it might not exist from April next year is unthinkable.”
Jo Ash, chief executive officer of SVS, said; “It’s a lifeline to many of these families.
We will be calling a meeting in the new year as soon as we have a clear picture of exactly what we will be facing, but we will be doing everything we can to plead and persuade the council to change their minds.”
She added that the charity would be doing everything to secure money from other areas so it could at least run a skeleton service before axing it completely.
As part of the sweeping cuts, nine projects in the city will also see their funding from the city council significantly reduced and among the hardest hit will be charity Barnardo’s, which will find its current £128,750 contract slashed to just £33,704 as it is asked to curtail its work solely to focus on the sexual exploitation of children.
Others who will see a reduction in money include Mencap’s parent partnership scheme, the No Limits charity which provides advice and guidance to young people, The Rose Road Association’s school for severely disabled children, Southampton Rape Crisis, Women’s Aid, Solent NHS Trust’s substance misuse service and The Avenue Centre’s family support service.
A £900,000 pot will also be shared between several other organisations which provide vouchers to parents which they can redeem for support work or a respite break. However, the length of time the vouchers cover will also be cut.
Clive Webster, director of children’s services, admits they are stark cuts but says the department is faced with making tough decisions defined by the priorities of the Labour group which came into power in May.
Cllr Sarah Bogle, the Cabinet member for children’s services, said: “It’s not news that we have got the worst settlement we have ever seen looming.
“It’s been a very difficult and challenging process that in an ordinary world we wouldn’t want to put forward, but we have tried to be as fair as possible, prioritising what limited resources we have.”