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Have your say on the future of children's centres in Bucks

Another consultation starts today, with three options.

Published by Mix96 News at 6:55am 4th October 2018. (Updated at 11:02am 4th October 2018) 5-minute read.

Have your say on the future of children's centres in Bucks

A new consultation starts today into the future of children's centres in Buckinghamshire (4/10).

The 10-week survey wants to capture the public's views on proposed ways to deliver early help services to support vulnerable families and children in Buckinghamshire.

It comes as a previous consultation was abandoned by the County Council.

Ever since the future of children's centres has been in doubt, the subject's been hotly debated and now three options have been put forward;

  • OPTION A - The service model for early help services would remain largely the same. This would mean that all children's centre buildings would remain open, but with reduced hours and services to deal with restricted budgets.
  • OPTION B The Council's preferred option, they say this would offer greater support to families through 14 family centres across Buckinghamshire. These would offer help to families with children aged 0-19, unlike the current children's centres which support families with children aged up to five. 
  • Option C All current children's centres would close in favour of a fully targeted outreach service, again run by area teams. Services would be delivered by teams working at different locations in the community. Their bases would not be open to the public but support would be directed to those in need once they are identified.

According to Bucks County Council, early help services should provide families experiencing difficulties with the right help at the right time in a proactive way, before their problems escalate and become harder to resolve.

They say with targeted support, families are able to deal with the emerging difficulties they face, such as domestic abuse, poor mental health, neglect and substance misuse.

So they're suggesting a connected approach to early help, with the Council working closely with its partner organisations, leading to more families being able to avoid future social care intervention.

Evidence indicates that an estimated 31% of 0-19 year olds in Buckinghamshire may benefit from early help support and, according to Councillors, the current service is not reaching all of them.

In 2017/18 only a small number (15%) of the families using the Council's early help services had an identified need for support. An even smaller number (5%) of families, with children aged 0-5, who used children's centres had an identified need for support in 2017/18.

With the County Council having to reduce costs across services because of public sector funding reductions, they now want our views to help decide how to reach and support children and families in need as effectively as possible.

Warren Whyte, Buckinghamshire County Council Cabinet Member for Children's Services, said:

"The research and evidence tells us we are not reaching enough of the children and families most in need with our existing Early Help service.

"This has to change. We know Children's Centres are popular, yet a small percentage of people currently using them (5% in 2017/18) actually have an identified need for their support.

"To reach the people most in need and provide the best possible early help service, we must make services more connected, proactive and targeted. This way, the money spent on the service can go further to help the children and families who would most benefit. A new early help service can be about far more than physical buildings - it can ensure we give the right professional support to children and families at the right time. We need to help people before their problems escalate and become harder to resolve. With no central government funding, the Council has less money than ever before and must make every penny count toward helping those children and families most in need.

"Our preferred option (Option B) would retain the use of some existing children's centre sites, expanding their offer of support as Family Centres, and strengthen all aspects of the Early Help service to deliver more targeted support to people in need. This would let us work with health providers, schools and others to ensure families get the right service at the right time.

"But we need to know what the public think - particularly those using early help services or who may benefit from them. The views we hear will matter in helping us decide on or even reshape our proposals."

The consultation runs until midnight on Thursday, December 13 2018. Access to the online survey and supporting information, including more detail on the proposed options, can be found here.

No changes will be made to early help services until September 2019.

Several public meetings are being planned during the consultation period to support people in understanding the options in filling out the survey. More information will be given about these soon. 

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