Home-Stop for the vulnerable

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A CHARITY that helps the most vulnerable families in the city may have to close.

Home-Start could be forced to shut by April 1 after £68,600 worth of funding was axed by Milton Keynes Council as part of cost cutting measures.

And although the Central Milton Keynes based charity, which works with people struggling to cope with the stresses of bringing up a young family, managed to raise £205,000 in 2011 it is the council’s grant that keeps it going.

That’s because that cash funds half of its rent and most of its admin costs.

It is a situation chairman of trustees John Nicholson describes as like cutting off an athlete’s legs and asking them to run – “they will have no success no matter how strong their arms are.”

Home-Start volunteers pay home visits, helping with everything from child care to shopping. Often a parent has a disability, or a child a debilitating illness. Other grateful recipients of Home-Start’s help are those suffering from depression or parents with twins or triplets.

In all Home-Start has helped 681 families in the last four-and-a-half years, including 179 last year.

The Home-Start grant is one of many proposed cuts during last year’s council budget crisis meetings. Councillors resolved instead to support the under fives through children’s centres.

Mr Nicholson said: “We have had very good testimonies from so many families saying how, for them, we have been a lifesaver.

“We help them in the home. The council talk about children’s centres but that is fine if you are strong enough to get to them.

“I’m talking about families who can’t go out because they have health problems, depression, learning difficulties and so on. Or simply a mother with two children who lives in a block of flats with no lift.”

Because of the fear of closure the charity is taking no new referrals from this month.

Mr Nicholson added: “We need that 70 grand. If somebody is out there with that sort of money available for a really good cause then that would keep us going for another 12 months.”

A council spokesman said the contract with HomeStart is one of five due to end in 2012 and a full review has been carried out.

He added that the council has to prioritise where money is spent and that the situation cannot arise where areas are ‘double funded’.

The council statement in full:

‘The contract that Milton Keynes Council has with Homestart is one of five contracts that are due to end in March 2012. This provides an opportunity to review of the services that are commissioned to ensure that we continue to meet the needs of families in Milton Keynes in priority need.

‘Following a review of information gathered by officers, an Early Help Commissioning Plan has been developed with the intention of providing a coherent and comprehensive response for priority families that would benefit from early help support.

‘We currently spend around £4.5 million maintaining our 20 Children’s Centres across Milton Keynes and it is vital that our commissioned services complement what is already being provided. The Early Help Commissioning Plan sets out to do this – using a needs assessment to identity those areas where we need to do more.

‘What we cannot do is to continue to ‘double fund’ some areas whilst not addressing others. Therefore the Early Help Commissioning Plan targets priority areas where our current investment is more limited, particularly in relation to formal parenting classes and community based support for families with 5-10 year old children as these have been identified as gaps by schools and social workers.

‘However, the Council is not complacent about the improvement required to improve the reach of these services into more vulnerable families and communities is a priority action. As a result, officers are embarking on a comprehensive reorganisation of services to ensure that services are fit for purpose and focused on those most in need of our help.

‘We acknowledge the huge contribution that volunteers like you make to our community. All our Children’s Centres encourage and welcome volunteers and our Early Help Commissioning Plan seeks to engage with the voluntary and community sector and continue to provide opportunities for local people to give up time and energy to support others.’