Proposals for children’s services would protect most vulnerable
Oxfordshire County Council proposes to create a service centred on eight new Children and Family Centres at Banbury, Bicester, Witney, Abingdon, Didcot and three locations in Oxford (Barton, Rose Hill and Blackbird Leys) with significant outreach to all parts of the county, targeted group sessions and some open access sessions.
The proposed changes represent a complete change in approach to delivering services for 0-19 year olds and their families at a time when rising demand and reduced Government funding means the council has to better target those families and children who most need support.
The new Children and Family Centres will deliver support focused on issues including domestic violence, substance misuse and parental mental health as well as school readiness, personal safety and child sexual exploitation awareness.
The eight venues will be in operation from early morning until late evening delivering sessions.
As part of the outreach service there would be teams of staff designated as locality workers whose specific jobs it will be to work in communities to advise and support staff who continue to provide universal services to children and families throughout Oxfordshire – such as teachers in schools, health workers and staff in early years settings.
Staff in the new service would be based at the Children and Families Centres and would visit families in their home, at school and other locations convenient to the family. Targeted group programmes would also take place at venues other than the eight centres and there would be a mobile bus service bringing services to localities
Close working with agencies such as schools and the health sector would ensure that children at risk who require support are identified as early as possible and appropriate services are provided to them and their families.
Services currently provided separately in children’s social care and children’s centres/early intervention hubs would be provided seamlessly from within the new county council service meaning there would no longer be a need for children and families to be referred from one service to another.
Eleven centres continue as child care venues
Eleven of the current children’s centres offer child care on the same site and the council proposes to support the delivery of the child care aspect of their service until April 2017 with a view to helping them be financially self-sufficient from this time.
Supporting these settings will provide a base for the outreach work that will be delivered in those communities.
Discussions continue about the future of other children’s centres
Meanwhile the council continues to have discussions with communities about how current children’s centres might be able to continue to operate in different ways and via different funding streams in the future.
Council Leader Ian Hudspeth has visited a large number of children’s centres and early intervention hubs in recent months and is continuing to tour the county.
Responding to feedback
More than 2,700 people responded to a wide ranging consultation during the Winter, with hundreds more attending public meetings.
Having listened to feedback, the council’s has included preventative services, a mobile bus service for rural areas and some open access sessions enabling those living in the most deprived areas of Oxfordshire to attend stay and play youth sessions and reduce any stigma associated with attending the centres.
Precious resource targeted at the most vulnerable
Councillor Melinda Tilley, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Children, Education and Families said: “We know how highly people value the current range of services and we are truly sorry to have to reduce these services. The desire to defend existing arrangements has been clearly articulated throughout the consultation. We understand the sentiment.
“The reality is that current financial pressures and rising demand alone – never mind future savings – would mean having to redesign services at this very point in time. What we are proposing is the safest possible system that protects vulnerable families and links effectively with other agencies. Our priority is keeping children safe and supporting the most vulnerable families.”
“We have recently seen a sharp rise in the number of children coming into care and onto child protection plans. These are the county’s most vulnerable children at risk of abuse and neglect right now - not tomorrow, or next year. Continuing to fund universal services in the way we currently do would mean diverting precious resources away from the protection of these highly vulnerable children.
“Our new service would join together children’s social care and the current work of children’s centres and early intervention hubs in one seamless service, delivering intensive support to those who most need it, reaching out to all parts of the county and providing a safe and co-ordinated system.
“We’ve heard strong arguments about the role of the universal services at children’s centres and early intervention hubs in helping solve families’ problems at an early stage. We understand the importance of this and have built in some changes to our proposals in response. Some open access services would also be available to families living in the most deprived areas through the new Children and Family Centres.
Encouraging communities to come forward
Councillor Tilley added: “The appetite of local people to see these services continue across the county is driving positive discussions to find ways of keeping centres open in an era where council funding is no longer available. Those discussions are bearing fruit and I would urge communities to continue working with us on this.”
When will a decision be made?
The county council’s cabinet will consider the proposals at a meeting on Tuesday, February 23 at County Hall with a 2pm start.
- The current Early Intervention Service and Children’s Centres services have budgets totalling £16m.
- The new service would contain £8m of this budget plus £4m from the children’s social care family support service which will be integrated in to the new service.
- The proposal being recommended to cabinet on February 23 is Option One from the consultation with modifications as set out above.
- The service would also provide support to young people with Special Education Needs up to the age of 25.
Short explanations of the various key components of the proposed new service
Locality and Community Support Service
This service would provide advice and guidance to universal services, including schools, health services and voluntary and community groups to enable them to support vulnerable children, young people and families. The service would identify emerging needs and safeguarding concerns with localities and be the first point of contact for universal services who have concerns. The service would be organised in to three teams: North, Central and South. This would be a significant preventative service, enabling vulnerable children to be identified and support put in place before concerns escalate.
Family Support Service
The new Family Support Service would integrate the existing Children’s Social Care family support teams with the family support functions currently undertaken in the Early Intervention Service. The service would provide timely support and interventions to vulnerable families, respond to crises within families, support programmes for children and families, co-ordinate services with the local Children and Families Centre and outreach to venues other than Children and Family Centres. The development of an integrated service would increase capacity to support the most vulnerable children and focus resources on children in need to prevent further escalation of their needs.
Children and Family Centres
The eight proposed centres would provide a base for the service and would operate intensively throughout the day. These centres would provide a degree of open-access services, be a base for outreach work. There would also be a mobile bus service to deliver services to rural communities. An outreach service would be provided to all parts of Oxfordshire to help families who need the most intensive support. Their overall focus would be on providing support to those families who most need it – including on issues such as domestic violence, substance misuse and parental mental health as well as readiness for school and parenting advice.