Parents are to be consulted over plans to move children’s centre services in several areas, and reduce opening hours in others.
Action for Children and Spurgeons, the companies that have won the new Northamptonshire County Council contracts to manage children’s services, are proposing the closure of existing children’s centres in Highfield in Wellingborough; Nene Lakes in Earls Barton; Manor in Raunds; Brixworth in Daventry and Roade in South Northamptonshire.
They say that sessions and classes provided will be moved to other buildings in the heart of communities including libraries or village halls, and that the most vulnerable parents will be offered help in their own homes if they want it.
Deputy leader of Northamptonshire County Council Heather Smith said: “A year ago, this council agreed to change the focus of our children centre services as part of our response to Ofsted’s inadequate ratings of our children’s services.
“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.”
Critics of the plans say that it will mean only the most vulnerable people are given direct access to services and that universal support will be cut.
A petition is already underway in Rushden over the cut in hours at children’s centres in the town. Mum Issy Burge has helped to organise the petition which has already gained 250 signatures. She said: “The universal services are being cut dramatically. The main function of the children’s service is to ensure that children are looked after so it’s very worrying that a big group of children aren’t potentially going to be looked after.”
Cllr Smith added: “At the time we awarded the contract we had 50 children’s centres throughout the county that were all being operated differently with individual contracts. We already knew we needed to look at the way they were run.
“We have not taken any money out of the £10m children’s centre budget.
“A lot of our services can operate out of our libraries and the librarians are to be given extra training so that children’s services can concentrate on those families who need help.”
Action for Children operations director Laurie Long was keen to stress that while the services may be operating from different buildings, the current programme of activities will not be affected. Her organisation runs 30 children’s centres in Northamptonshire.
She said: “We really want to target those families who may be experiencing difficulties early on. We want to be able to identify those families who, for example are suffering domestic violence or poverty or postnatal depression, as quickly as we can.
“Once we know who those families are we can proactively meet with these parents to ensure they can access our services in the place that is most suitable for them.”
Paul Ringer, director of children’s services at Spurgeons which runs fifteen centres, said: “Spurgeon’s 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.
“There are many peer support mentors who are well able to run some groups in their communities.
“We will be using a range of outreach venues, such as church halls and community centres, alongside children’s centre buildings.
“By using outreach venues we hope to promote accessibility of services be ensuring that services are in areas convenient to local people and to reach those families in greatest need.”
The reorganisation will also lead to a number of redundancies although talks are currently taking place with staff so neither organisation could comment further on the number of job losses.
You can also request an email version from firstname.lastname@example.org or post a completed questionnaire to Early Help and Prevention, Samita Shah, Room 140, County Hall, NOrthampton, NN1 1AY.
There are also a series of public consultation meetings taking place in every area during November where you can find out about the specific plans for your centre. These are at:
Rushden Pemberton Centre on November 17 at 10am.
Thrapston Plaza on November 28 at 5.30pm
Kettering Ise Valley Pavilion Community Centre on November 17 at 5pm
Wellingborough Croyland Chidlren’s Centre on November 20 at 1pm.
Corby is not affected by the current proposals as the contract for children’s services has not yet been awarded there.