Libraries in Northamptonshire lack ‘space, facilities, staff, volunteers and expertise’ for under fives sessions

Shifting services from Northamptonshire children’s centres to libraries “has had a negative impact”, according to a watchdog’s report.

Healthwatch Northamptonshire visited 14 children’s centres and 17 libraries in May, June and July and talked to families, staff and volunteers about services for children aged five and under.

The key findings in the report are:

- Although libraries are welcoming to families, they do not have the space, facilities, staff, volunteers or expertise to run open access family services.

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- Staffing levels are low across all the libraries Healthwatch visited, given the additional functions for libraries.

- Volunteers to run the children’s sessions are difficult to recruit.

- Families that may need help do not appear to be going to either libraries or children’s centres.

Healthwatch Northamptonshire decided to carry out this piece of work following a number of changes to services, including the change in venue of Daventry East children’s centre in December 2014.

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There was also a reduction of hours and change in venues at five other children’s centres across Northamptonshire (Highfield in Wellingborough, Manor in Raunds and Nene Lakes in Earls Barton plus Brixworth and Roade).

Helen Statham, of Healthwatch Northamptonshire said “Based on the work we did talking to parents/carers, staff and volunteers at children’s centres and libraries, we concluded that the narrowing focus of children’s centres; the reduction of children’s centre sessions open to all families, combined with the shift of some services from children’s centres to libraries has had a negative impact.

“We found that the working relationships between library services and children’s centres to deliver services for under fives is improving, however there are still issues to address such as families who need extra support are not being referred to children’s centres from libraries.”

Healthwatch has recommended an independent evaluation of the service so that all families needing help are being identified as quickly as possible and know where to go.

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Mrs Statham said: “We are keen to work with Northamptonshire County Council to further explore the views and experiences of parents and carers, as well as staff and volunteers, to ensure that families are able to easily access help and support at the right time and the right place for them.”

A Northamptonshire County Council spokesman said: “We welcome the positive comments in this report and note the areas recommended for improvement.

“We are committed to delivering the very best services for children and families and this is why we decided to review the way we deliver those services. The changes we introduced have enabled us to provide support in the right place at the right time and to provide help to families where they most need it – in or near their homes.

“We are already addressing many of the issues raised in the Healthwatch report and will be looking at areas such as facilities in libraries, the timing of activities and the training and recruitment of volunteers.

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“We are now one year into the new model and we will be using this report as part of our own review into the effectiveness of our services for children and families in Northamptonshire.”

For the full report please go to: