Oxfordshire unveils major changes to children’s centres

Three options have been put forward today (Monday) for the future of children’s centres and the early intervention service in Oxfordshire in response to large cuts in government funding.

By Jason Pritchard
Tuesday, 8th September 2015, 9:06 am
Labour councillors Mark Cherry and Sean Woodcock with Jill Huish -  service user at a children's centre protest back in 2013 in Banbury. ENGNNL00120130211132522
Labour councillors Mark Cherry and Sean Woodcock with Jill Huish - service user at a children's centre protest back in 2013 in Banbury. ENGNNL00120130211132522

The proposals by Oxfordshire County Council follow the findings of a cross party review which recommended that a network of Children and Family Resource centres for 0-19-year-olds be developed, targeted to those areas of greatest need, with a good geographical spread of centres.

The council’s preferred option would see eight Family and Resource Centres at various locations 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.

Suggested locations would be Banbury, Bicester, Witney, Abingdon and Didcot with three centres in Oxford at Barton/Sandhills, Blackbird Leys and Rose Hill/Littlemore areas.

The proposals would save £8 million from the current £16 million budget for children’s centres and the Early Intervention Service.

The remaining £8 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 £12 million service.

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

“Clearly we would rather not be in the position of having to much 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 we had in 2010.”

The second option would be that there would be eight centres but the council would continue to provide or commission limited universal services. The resource to do this would from an increase in caseloads within the Family Support Service and a reduction in the amount of outreach provided by the Family Outreach Service.

Option three would see only six centres and see the council release £1 million per year for grant funding to the voluntary and community sector to deliver services for families across Oxfordshire.

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.

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.

Councillor Tilley added: “All there 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 centres 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 presented in all communities, in particular to support the most vulnerable, working with partner organisations.

“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.

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

The proposals would be presented to the Cabinet on September 15.

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