Children’s centres to offer outreach service

Campaigners stood outside Oxfordshire County Council's base at County Hall in Oxford to protest last year. Picture by Pier Corona. NNL-150916-113603001
Campaigners stood outside Oxfordshire County Council's base at County Hall in Oxford to protest last year. Picture by Pier Corona. NNL-150916-113603001

Banbury is to get a support centre and three outreach bases in addition to a children and family centre as part of Oxfordshire County Council’s £14 million service for children and young people.

This week, OCC unveiled its plans for its new service for children and young people up to the age of 19, which will include spending the £2 million it had freed up through amendments to its budget in February. The new service will operate out of 18 locations.

A total of £100,000 of the £2 million will be spent on two ‘shared locality bases’ which will be in addition to the county’s eight children and family centres, one of which is in Banbury.

One of these bases will be based at the East Street Children’s Centre, in Banbury, and will offer support and group programmes to vulnerable children and their families. They will not function as additional children and family centres.

Another £1 million will be allocated to the locality and community service and will provide 30 extra staff to provide advice and support to organisations that provide ‘universal services’ such as schools, health services and voluntary and community groups. The service will also undertake a ‘community coordinator’ role.

Eight of the current children’s centres which are offering childcare on the same site with council support until April 2017, will also be outreach centres for the service with three based in Banbury – The Sunshine Centre, North Banbury Centre and the Britannia Road Centre – and one based in Chipping Norton at The Ace Centre. The locality base also has childcare funding.

The remaining £900,000 will be used for more staff in the family support service, for preventative support for families whose needs do not meet the threshold for statutory social care.

OCC’s cabinet will consider the proposals at its meeting on May 24, starting at 2pm.

OCC councillor for children, education and families, Melinda Tilley, said: “We will be able to reach more deeply in to communities than would have been the case without the extra £2m agreed by council in February. Our ability to reach out to families and children on the edge of care would also be significantly enhanced.

“We know people value the current arrangements and we are glad to be able to extend those until next spring. However the reality remains 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.”

OCC is also having discussions with communities about how current children’s centres might be able to continue to operate in different ways and with different funding in the future, setting up a £1 million pump priming fund.

But Save Oxfordshire Children’s Centres Campaign spokesman Jo Lovell, called the announcement a ‘travesty.’

“It indicates the council aren’t listening to the public, service users or their own councillors,” she said.

She added the public and service users weren’t in favour of the locality and community services and family support teams and argued only five per cent of the £2 million was actually being spent on children’s centres.

“It is pouring money into badly thought out and unpopular services,” she said. “The council simply doesn’t seem to understand that prevention is better than cure.”