Public to be consulted on three options for proposed children’s centre and early intervention changes

The report to cabinet can be found here

You can register here for an email alert and notification when the consultation goes live

The proposals follow the findings of a cross-party review of the council's early intervention services, and children’s centres, which was reported to Cabinet in June.

That review recommended that a network of Children and Family Centres for 0-19 year-olds be developed targeted to those areas of greatest need, with a good geographical spread of centres. The focus would be on supporting the most vulnerable children and families.

Under the proposals £8m would be saved from the current overall £16m budget for children’s centres and the Early Intervention Service.

The remaining £8m budget for the current children’s centres and early intervention services would be combined with the existing £4m budget for children’s social care’s Family Support Teams, creating a new £12m service.

Three options for consultation

Three options for creating a brand new service absorbing the work of children’s centres and the council’s Early Intervention Service will now be put forward for public consultation:

Option 1: The council’s preferred option is that eight Family Centres at various locations be developed with the full focus on the most vulnerable and the council ceasing to provide/commission universal services (such as stay and play or open access youth sessions).

It is important to note that the plan would be for these centres to be the base for significant outreach work to all Oxfordshire communities – not just those communities in which the centres would be based.

The focus would be on maximising staff numbers in order to provide wide service coverage - including at outreach locations beyond the eight centres - based upon the current configuration of children’s centres and early intervention hubs.

Locations of the centres will be subject to consultation but criteria for judging these matters would be based on travel times and areas of greatest need - including levels of child deprivation in different parts of Oxfordshire.

Going in to the consultation, suggested locations looking at these factors would be Banbury, Bicester, Witney, Abingdon and Didcot with three centres in Oxford (Barton/Sandhills, Blackbird Leys and Rose Hill/Littlemore areas).

It is envisaged that some universal services funded by other organisations would also be delivered from these centres – for instance health visiting, child and adolescent mental health services and activities run by the voluntary and community sector. Discussions are ongoing about the nature and extent of this provision.

Newly integrated teams would provide a targeted service for the most vulnerable and would remove the current organisational division between children’s social care’s Family Support Service and the work undertaken by children’s centres and early intervention hubs. They would also link very strongly with local schools and health services.

Option 2: Again there would be eight centres. However the council would continue to provide or commission limited universal services. The resource to do this would come from an increase in caseloads within the Family Support Service and a reduction in the amount of outreach provided by the Family Support Service.

Option 3: Under this option there would only be six centres. This would release £1m per year for grant funding to the voluntary and community sector to deliver services for families across Oxfordshire.

Locality and Community Support Service

Under all three options a brand new Locality and Community Support Service would be set up to support and work with those agencies who continue to provide universal services – such as schools and health and community based services.

The service would build on the current established model of locality support. Under this model social workers link with universal services enabling concerns to be shared and advice and guidance given in relation to children and young people where there may be child protection issues.

Three teams (for the north, south and centre of Oxfordshire) will make up the Locality and Community Support Service.

Financial context and the council’s overall budget situation

When the council set its budget in February 2015, it was agreed that children’s centres and the Early Intervention Service would have to make £6m of savings on a total budget of £16m, to meet the council’s saving target. This represents part of the council’s on-going savings of £290m from 2010 to 2018.

A total of £1m of this is being saved during the 2015/16 financial year – as previously agreed. Savings are being made as a result of removing the Chill Out Fund and Positive Activities budgets (in the Youth Engagement area), re-commissioning some contracts and transferring some services to other parts of the council (i.e. Services for Disabled Children, Foundation Years). It has also been the case that some staff vacancies have not been filled.

The council believes it will need to make significant additional savings over the next three years, on top of the £290m figure as a result of a further round of cuts to the public purse by the Treasury.

That is why the proposal to cabinet is for an £8m saving rather than £6m. Should the council ultimately decide to remain with a £6m saving, this will provide an opportunity to increase the number of Children and Family Centres within Oxfordshire from the eight in options one and two or the six in option three.

Oxfordshire County Council is now in its sixth straight year of having to make savings since 2010/11. It currently spends 50 per cent of its budget on two per cent of the population (those in receipt of care).

It is calculated that this will rise to 75 per cent of the budget on two per cent of the population by 2020.

New services with a focus on the most vulnerable

Councillor Melinda Tilley said: “We are determined to ensure that Oxfordshire County Council continues to focus the increasingly scarce finances at its disposal on supporting the most vulnerable children and their families - despite the unprecedented funding challenges we face.

“All three of the options proposed would represent a brand new start with new services, combining children’s social care and the current work of children’s centres and early intervention services more effectively.

“There will be a lot of outreach which will focus on work in all of Oxfordshire’s localities. The number of buildings we use would reduce but we’d still be very much present in all communities, in particular to support the most vulnerable, working with partner organisations.

Stark financial challenges

Cllr Tilley added: “Clearly we would rather not be in the position of having to make such significant savings to all of our services, not just children’s centres and early intervention services. However this is illustrative of the stark financial challenges councils in England are facing. We simply do not have the money that we had in 2010.

“I know that people will have strong opinions about all of the service changes we are having to make. We share those sentiments. However those sentiments don’t change the sums. The whole council still needs to make tough decisions about how our reduced budget is best spent.

“If we don’t make savings in one area that means increased savings in another – which will mean a whole different group of people will wish to protest.

“We long ago made the easier savings to our back office administration and our senior management has been cut by more than 40 per cent. We are trying our best under exceptionally difficult circumstances.

“We would like people’s thoughts on the three options presented.”

When will consultation take place?

It is anticipated that the consultation will start in early October and run until the end of the year.

You can register here for an email alert and notification when the consultation goes live

The consultation questionnaire will be available to complete on line on the council’s website. In addition paper copies will be available at all Children’s Centres and Early Intervention Hubs, as well as at other council buildings.