The Children’s and Adults’ Care and Education Committee (CACE) approved the AfC (Achieving for Children) proposed Children’s Centre strategy on 20 September 2018. This was a key decision, which set out a strategy to review the current provision of children’s centre services across the Borough, and look at ways of strengthening and enhancing the outreach provision, whilst maximising resources to target the most vulnerable families in Kingston.
It has been widely documented that the Council inherited a large financial overspend and without looking at ways, now, to address this overspend, we would be placing our services, including children’s centre services, in a more financially perilous position over the next 2–3 years.
Importantly, we want to be honest and transparent with all families. Operating children’s centres is resource intensive, requiring effective levels of staffing, and expertise, as well as on-going tenancy and maintenance considerations. If we were to continue the occupation of all 8 main children’s centres across the Borough, this would be financially unsustainable.
With this in mind, 4 out of the current 8 centres are earmarked for recommissioning, of which 2 will be re-commissioned in a phased transition period over the next 12 months. The remaining 4 children's centres will be re-commissioned to provide enhanced support for families with children, and the service will work with any families who may attend children’s centres that could be recommissioned, to identify alternative accessible venues.
It has not been an easy decision. We have to save a total of £240,000 per annum, which is what we need to do in order to address the current financial overspend. We are also in a challenging financial position, both nationally and locally. At a time when we have to adhere to the statutory obligations of providing early childhood services in the local authority area, we also have a duty to ensure there are sufficient children’s centre services to meet the needs of children aged 0–4 and their families, and to improve outcomes for young children and their families, and reduce inequalities between families in greatest need.
Having listened to what services our families find important, we are now focusing on a strategy and a new model that will provide a strengthened offer of services, particularly in the remaining children’s centres, and enhanced outreach services to local communities, whilst at the same time dealing with the current financial overspend.
The new model will ensure the new workforce will be redesigned into a Borough-based delivery model, including prioritising services identified as popular and important in children’s centres . This could mean providing activities for children aged 5–11 during school holidays, enhancing postnatal support and advice, and expansion of support to children aged between 0 and 11 (rather than just 0–5).
The new model will also provide young children and families with alternative outreach venues offering a range of activities and services, and ideally not far from the existing children’s centres which are earmarked for re-commissioning.
It has, therefore, been an important aspect of the strategy, and in terms of analysing the potential impact of such a decision, to consult with families right across the Borough about their views and feelings towards existing children’s centre provision, as well as what type of services they would like to see, either in the remaining centres, or as part of any future service which would benefit local communities.
A public consultation was undertaken from December 2018 to February 2019. Families across the Borough completed a questionnaire containing a range of questions, including asking them which children’s centre do they usually use in Kingston, as well as asking about the benefits and importance of certain types of services they use in the centres, as well as what type of services they use, and use the most, and what type of services they would like to have in the future.
Other results of the consultation have shown us that families are open to the option of encouraging the Council to deliver as many children’s centre services as possible that will help the community. An overwhelming 95% of families said they would be in favour of providing a small donation of £2.50, for example, per family, to attend Stay and Play (the most popular service), Messy Play or holiday activities, if this meant the children centre service could be strengthened or enhanced.
As Diane White, Portfolio holder for Children services and education, says, “Our residents have made it very clear that they value highly our children's centre service. Following consultation, we looked carefully at how we can enhance and strengthen the service. I am very aware of the importance of children’s centres to our communities. We intend to look carefully at both the children’s centre provision and how we can strengthen services there, as well as looking at all options and ways of strengthening and enhancing services as part of the newly proposed community-based outreach model.”
“In developing this new model, our aim is to strengthen the reach, and outreach across the Borough in what is a currently challenging financial situation. We intend to work with health partners, such as health visiting and midwifery to ensure there is a good local offer of health services to families. Health provision will continue under the new arrangements in different, and accessible local venues. We will also explore the potential to extend the range of venues and sites to deliver children’s centre activities.”
“We acknowledge that children's centres should meet the needs of all our residents, especially our most vulnerable families, and we will work hard to achieve this. We intend to work closely with the Parent Fora attached to children’s centres, to identify income generating opportunities, and prioritise the services identified as popular and important. Our aim in the coming weeks will be to develop a plan of action to deliver the agreed proposals. We will also publish the consultation findings and implement a plan to inform key stakeholders.”