Express & Star

Councillor ‘distressed’ after overhearing Walsall child say 'there was no food at home'

A councillor was left ‘distressed’ after overhearing a Walsall child say they needed to ‘fill themselves up’ at a half-term activity as there was no food at home.

Walsall Council

Councillor Tina Jukes heard the heartbreaking comment when she visited one of Walsall’s Easter Holiday Activity and Food (HAF) programmes which offers services to youngsters and their families during the school holidays.

At a full council meeting on Monday, she raised concerns about possible government funding being stopped and what steps the authority would take if it did.

Bosses said no decision had been made but options were being explored to ensure children and families continued to get support they needed in future.

Councillor Jukes said: “Here in Walsall the HAF programme provides school holiday activities for the borough’s children and ensures that all those who attend are fed healthy and nutritious meals.

“The HAF also provides parents with recipes which are healthy and cost-effective to feed the family at home and will support families in accessing food banks if needed.

“On one of my recent visits to the Easter provision, I was very distressed to have heard a conversation where a young child stated that they needed to ‘fill themselves up’ while at the session as they would be ‘having nothing’ when they got home.

“According to DfE sources, this funding is due to cease in March 2025. This will mean the HAF provision will likely not be able to continue across the borough which would be hugely impactive on our children and young people, leaving many of them hungry over school holiday periods.

"We as a council cannot allow this to happen. If the funding is to be withdrawn, what are the administration going to do to ensure that these vital services remain in place for Walsall children?”

Councillor Stacie Elson, portfolio holder for children’s services, said: “I think there is nobody more than us who realises the importance of the HAF programmes and the difference it has made to the children, young people and their families.

“We have got a HAF website where parents and carers can register their children for the HAF programme but it also provides them with access for additional help, support and services including parenting programmes and financial support.

“There is no formal decision that the funding will stop after this date. Nationally there are a number of funding streams which could be amalgamated next year.

“The 50-plus voluntary community partners in Walsall who have embraced this programme and deliver amazing activities and food to children and young people are also considering sustainability and are actively seeking future viable funding.

“Given the success of the programme which has developed and continues to grow, the HAF team as part of the succession plan are making contact with the resilient communities locality leads and external funding team to also support providers with information on any potential external funding opportunities.

“Once we get any information from the DfE about HAF we will provide that update.

“At this moment in time, we are exploring all possible options to ensure the children and families continue to get the support they require now and moving forward.”