PROPOSED changes to Reading’s children’s centre service will be discussed in June following a three-month public consultation.
The Council has listened to concerns from respondents that most first-time parents are vulnerable and in need of support and that the proposed new model would fail to provide them with the help they require. As a result, support will be offered to all new parents and babies up to the age of 1-year at children’s centres and other community buildings across the borough.
During the consultation period the voluntary sector also expressed an interest in becoming more involved in providing universal services to 0-3 year olds in the future. The Council is committed to helping the voluntary sector deliver these services from Children’s Centre buildings where appropriate.
Members of the Adult, Children’s and Education committee will be asked to approve proposals for a remodelled Children’s Centre service at a meeting on 6th June.
The new service would operate from four children’s centre hubs, incorporating the Health Visiting Service, and would offer universal health and maternity services. Increasingly, services are being delivered in different and more flexible ways through homes visits and the use of satellite and community buildings.
Reading has good and sufficient provision for two, three and four-year-olds and the introduction of 30-hours early entitlement for three-year-olds from September is expected to result in a reduction in demand for universal activities at children’s centres.
All families will still be able to receive universal services such as ante-natal care, health checks and clinics and low-level parenting support up to the age of five, which will help early identification of vulnerable families who may require further support.
Targeted group support, such as parenting courses and housing and employment advice, will be available, as well as more intensive one-to-one support where required.
The Council is also keen to build on partnerships with Reading’s voluntary sector to continue providing a wide range of universal activities.
The four proposed children’s centre hubs would be located at Sun Street Youth & Community building in east Reading; Southcote Youth & Community Centre; Ranikhet Children’s Centre in Tilehurst and Whitley Youth Centre.
Universal and targeted services would also be delivered from a variety of sites across the borough, such as Caversham Children’s Centre and Coley Children’s Centre.
Most of the buildings which host children’s centre services will remain active as they also function as nursery schools and offer childcare facilities.
The public consultation on the proposals included an online document on the Council’s website and leaflets available in children’s centres, libraries and community centres. The consultation document was also sent to Reading schools, Early Years Childcare settings, partners and the voluntary sector. Five consultation events were also held in children’s centres.
Four hundred responses and two petitions were received and they have all been analysed and compiled into a comprehensive report for consideration.
However, savings of £400,000 have to be found by the children’s centre service by 2018/19, as agreed by the Policy Committee in July 2016, due to the Council facing considerable budget pressures and increased demands on services.
Councillor Jan Gavin, Lead Member for Children’s Services, said:
“We would like to thank everyone who took part in the public consultation on the proposals for the future of children’s centre services in Reading.
“All the responses to the consultation were analysed and taken into consideration. We have listened to what people have said and made changes accordingly, particularly with regard to supporting new parents and working with the voluntary sector.
“Reading has always had a generous number of children’s centres and the response to the consultation highlights the positive impact they have had on many families.
“Unfortunately, the Council can no longer afford to offer such a comprehensive universal service and has to target its limited resources to the families who most need support.
“There are already a large number of good toddler activity groups available for families with children under five in Reading and the Council will work with partners in the voluntary sector to explore the possible provision of other family services within the children’s centre buildings.”
The full committee report on the Children’s Centre Consultation Response can be found at: http://www.reading.gov.uk/article/10534/Adult-Social-Care-Childrens-Services–Education-Committee-6-JUN-2017