Plans to reduce Northamptonshire children’s centre opening hours and launch ’community hubs’ go out to consultation

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Proposals to change the opening hours of children’s centres across Northamptonshire and ‘relocate’ under used facilities have gone out to consultation today.

The county council, which contracted out the management of children’s centres to Action for Children and Spurgeons in June,is proposing to move facilities at Highfield in Wellingborough; Nene Lakes in Earls Barton; Manor in Raunds; Brixworth in Daventry and Roade in South Northamptonshire, to ‘more suitable venues’.

Details of the proposals, published on the council’s website today, also detail plans to launch ‘outreach venues’ in church halls and community centres and transfer over services currently offered by the centres to local libraries.

Both Action for Children and Spurgeons also propose to carry out more home visits to ‘vulnerable families’.

A number of meetings are set to take place around the county over the coming months for parents to have their say on the plans.

Speaking on the proposals deputy leader of Northamptonshire County Council and cabinet member for children and education, Councillor Heather Smith, (Con, Oundle) said the plans were not about saving money – as the children’s services budget has been frozen at £10.4m until 2017.

“A year ago this council agreed to change the focus of our children’s services as part of our response to Ofsted’s inadequate rating of our children’s services.” She said.

“We know that we haven’t been good enough at helping families in need of support and many of those families’ situations deteriorated to crisis point requiring social worker involvement.

“When we awarded new contracts over the summer to Action for Children and Spurgeons, we asked for a greater emphasis than before on working in communities and with families in their homes.

“This inevitably means that less time is spent in the Children’s Centre buildings so the consultation proposes that we change opening hours.

“Some buildings would remain as they are, most would see a reduction in the hours they’re open and in the case of five centres, we’re looking at moving services to entirely new venues that are better situated for outreach and community work.”

As an example, in Northampton North the proposals state universal children’s services would remain at Kingsthorpe library.

Spurgeons, which runs the contract in that area, would “continue to maintain a full-time presence” at the Kingsthorpe Children’s Centre though the firm plans to use buildings at Parklands and Penfold on a reduced timetable for services such as midwifery and health visiting.

As an addition it would run some children’s services St Matthew’s Church, Bradlaugh Fields, Heather’s Tea Room and St David’s Church room.

Paul Ringer, director of children’s services at Spurgeons, said: “Spurgeons hopes that children’s centres will become community hubs and we will do this by encouraging other local voluntary organisations and community groups, including the development of parent led groups, to use the centres as a base for delivering sessions.

“We will be using a range of outreach venues, such as church halls and community centres, alongside children’s centre buildings.

“Our vision for children’s centres is that they are not just simply buildings but are a wide range of accessible services for children, their parents and carers and the wider community.

“By using outreach venues we hope to promote accessibility of services by ensuring that services are in areas convenient to local people and to reach those families in greatest need.”

However both Spurgeons, which runs 15 children’s centres in the county, and Action for Children, which runs 30, said the restructure of its services would likely lead to redundancies.

“We are currently re-designing our staffing models to reflect the new service delivery models,” operational director at Action for Children, Laurie Long, said. “There will likely be reductions at management levels and in administration.”

Details of the proposals have been published on the council’s website today at www.northamptonshire.gov.uk/consultations.

People can take part in the consultation by completing the online questionnaire at www.surveymonkey.com/r/ChildrensCentreSurvey2014

A request can be made for a questionnaire at to CCConsultation@northamptonshire.gov.uk. Completed questionnaires can be posted to Early Help & Prevention, Samita Shah, Room 140, County Hall, Northampton, NN1 1AY.

The consultation will run until Friday, December 19. Feedback will be reported to the county council’s cabinet in February 2015.

If approved, the changes will take effect from April 2015.