Decision to be made on future support for children and their families

​Date: 25/11/2014

Our Cabinet will be asked to approve changes to the way support is provided to vulnerable children and their families by children's centres, to ensure that help is available to those who need it most.

The meeting on Tuesday 2 December will hear that a lengthy consultation has taken place and that changes have been made to the original proposals, which were first tabled in July 2014.

The proposals, 'A Better Service for Children and Young People', known as the Integrated Early Help Offer, relate to the way children's centres are operated and the part they play in supporting families. The focus is on providing suitable services to the families that need them at the right place and at the right time, rather than on the management and administration of dedicated buildings which cost 49% of the service's budget. The proposals will also help the Council identify a £2.5m saving which needs to be found in the budget.

The Cabinet meeting will be told that, under the new proposals, services for children and their families would be provided from a much wider range of venues than the Council does at the moment, by using a mixture of existing children's centres and newly-identified community venues. This addresses the concern of some parents and carers that proposals to reduce the number of children's centre buildings would mean they have further to travel. The proposal is to deliver more services, closer, to where people live.

The main change to the original proposal is the new plan to keep open three children's centres, which were previously identified for closure.

These are:
• Butterflies (Normanton)
• Sharlston
• Forrest Wood (Crigglestone)

Cllr Olivia Rowley, Cabinet Member for Children and Young People, said: "We have listened carefully to feedback from the consultation and as a result of this we have changed some of our proposals. I am confident that these plans deliver the right service for the right people in the right locations.

"It's always difficult to accept change and we've worked hard to explain that these proposals are not about reducing the service we provide, but delivering it differently and moving the focus away from maintaining costly buildings.

"We've identified a wide range of community venues which could potentially be used to host groups or sessions such as 'stay and play' which are currently run from the children's centres. Add these to the six main children's centres and six link sites and we could be delivering from many more venues than we do at the moment.

"Communities such as Altofts, Kirkthorpe, Kinsley and Fitzwilliam could have services delivered within their communities instead of having to travel to their nearest children's centre, meaning we can engage with more children and their families.

"This model not only reduces the costs of maintaining and running some of the children's centre buildings – which take up nearly half of the whole budget – but also mean that many communities will have less travelling to do if they want to access the service, not more."

The Council's Cabinet will hear that 695 people filled in the online consultation questionnaire to give their views, amounting to 4% of the overall number of families registered with children's centres. Eight petitions against the closure of children's centres were received by the Council – a mixture of online and hard copy documents – which had 3,201 signatures on. A total of 218 people attended the events held to discuss the proposals and their views were included in the consultation process.

The meeting will also be told that of the 23 existing children's centres, 16 don't currently meet the Ofsted benchmark for engaging with 65% of the children in their area. The proposals will outline how the work of children's centres will contribute to multi-agency working. Priorities will include to increase the number of children who are 'school ready', improving parenting capacity and reducing the numbers of children in need and incidents of anti-social behaviour.

Partners will work with the Council to provide joined-up Early Help, which will include parent and family support, targeted youth support, early years education, health visiting, debt advice, neighbourhood policing teams, midwifery services, GP's and housing, amongst others.

Cllr Rowley continued: "The new Integrated Early Help Offer will focus on giving help to those children who need it, along with their whole family. Support will no longer stop when the child reaches five and we know from our pilot in the South East of the district that there are significantly better outcomes when we provide early help to families.

"By working together we will be able to target the resource of those staff with specialist skills at those in most need, freeing them up to provide an even better service than we do now. Working with partners such as in the police and health service allows us to also take a holistic view of a family and help them get a wider variety of support in the right way at the right time."

The Cabinet meeting takes place on Tuesday 2 December in Wakefield's County Hall.