Thursday, 22 February 2018

Fife Council - Budget Day

Today Fife Council set its budget for the year. Whilst this post is not going to go into the finer nuances of that budget, it will rather be the full transcript of what I wrote to address to Council this morning.

My comments were specifically in reference to cuts to the budget for Education & Children's Services in Fife. Keep in mind that the Labour-SNP Administration have raised Council Tax here in Fife by 3%, yet have made cuts to vital services. 

The Fife Conservatives are opposed to savings proposals made within Education in this year’s Fife Council Budget.

"I would ask of the Administration to reconsider specifically; changes to out of school care, reshaping provision for those children affected by disability and any reduction in the numbers of Educational Psychologists.

Firstly, any cuts to out of school care have the potential to affect the most vulnerable of youngsters. The Council’s Education Directorate published, in looking towards their vision for 2020, that there should be a move towards a more “parent led” model of childcare facilities, based on Fairer Fife recommendations. Indeed, the five recommendations cited for a poverty-free Fife request that social approaches towards this should be “rapidly developed” and parent-led childcare in communities of low income should be on need rather than at the market rate. I do not disagree with this. However, concern lies not so much in the theory of this but on the implementation. Whilst a pilot has already been run it is seems that to make a cut in this provision could leave the most vulnerable of families with limited, if any, out of school care in place, therefore, failing to move towards the aim of “supporting parents (to) attend learning and training and jobs”.

The legalities of moving towards this new model will include the completing of risk assessments for each individual child - by who? The completion of PVG monitoring forms for parents and carers - who is paying for these? The actual construction of such an enterprise – which by its nature will be fluid in attracting and retaining parents and carers to lead it.

Families potentially most affected by this cut are within SIMD 1 & 2, the most vulnerable in society. Therefore, it cannot be right that a vital service to encourage, support and assist taking parents into training and jobs is removed and the onus put onto the community to run. Whilst I believe that such a move could have the potential for a more entrepreneurship approach to develop I would like to see more longer-term pilot schemes established, supported and run before any cut to this service is made.

We also cannot agree with the reshaping and bringing together of Social Work and Education teams under the current proposal for children affected by disability, which appears to only be about saving money. Having previously worked with youngsters affected by disability I do think that a more joined up approach, of all agencies is needed. Primarily to reduce the level of stress and anxiety often felt by parents and carers when negotiating their way around services. If we are serious about GIRFEC then we cannot be working towards a service that has a reduction in staffing whilst the number of pupils within additional support classes and departments continues to grow. Any cut to staffing through a merging of services leaves it open to longer waiting times and in turn the impact this will have on the individual child. A gradual move towards a more integrated, multi-agency approach has the potential to work but not with cuts to staffing from the outset.

Around one in three people in Scotland are affected by mental illness in any one year, according to the Scottish Government. Recent research indicates that around 40% of youngsters, struggle with their mental health. Considering that in Fife only 65.1% of those accessing mental health services through the Child and Adolescence Mental Health Service (CAMHS), have been seen within the targeted 18 week period, compared to a national average of 73.3% makes for grim reading. Current waiting times in Fife schools for a pupil to see or be observed by an educational psychologist are around 4 weeks. That can be a long four weeks for a youngster awaiting referral. Conversations I have had with senior staff in schools recently, indicate an increasing need for the educational psychologist but a realisation that there are currently not enough of them - now we are to propose a cut to an already overstretched service?

At a time when we have seen increasing success in developing a more inclusive and restorative approach towards school exclusion, an educational psychologist can offer behavioural support both to the youngster and their family. If we consider this along with recent data that indicates that a quarter of school children in Scotland identify as requiring additional support. Often that support can come in the form of the educational psychologist who is there to develop improving life chances for children with additional support needs.

I would urge the Administration to remove these cuts from their budget."

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