A REORGANISED Children’s Centre service operating from four hubs in areas of highest need are being proposed under new plans.
The remodelled service would focus on supporting children under 5 and their families and offer specific support for vulnerable families.
There would also be a network of satellite buildings and community venues which would accommodate staff and deliver services.
The proposals being considered by members of the Adult, Children’s and Education (ACE) Committee on 13th December form part of the council’s requirement to save £42 million by 2020 due to ongoing cuts in central government funding.
Reading currently has 13 children’s centres delivering universal services, such as family activity sessions and baby clinics, as well as targeted support, such as perinatal mental health group sessions, one-to-one family support and disability family group support.
The new proposal is to operate four Children’s Centre hubs offering universal health and maternity services and an early intervention support service mainly targeting vulnerable families. The Health Visiting service would be fully integrated into the Children’s Centres as it shares many of the same objectives.
The introduction of 30 hours early education entitlement for three-year-olds from next year is expected to result in a reduction in demand for universal activities in Children’s Centres and so the centres would particularly focus on services for pre-birth to three-year-olds.
Three tiers of support would be offered, tailored to the needs of the families with a focus on identifying any potential issues at an early stage.
Universal services available for all families would include ante-natal care, health checks and clinics and low-level parenting support activities up to the age of five.
Tier two would offer targeted group support such as parenting courses, benefits/housing advice and training/employment advice while tier three would offer more intensive one-to-one support where required.
Tier two and three services would be targeted at vulnerable families with the aim of identifying any issues at an early stage to prevent any escalation.
The council would also invite partners, agencies and community groups to run activities for families at the centres.
The four Children’s Centre hubs, which would be the key delivery sites and bases for staff, would be located at the Sun Street Youth and Community Building in east Reading; Southcote Youth and Community Building and Children’s Centre; Ranikhet Children’s Centre in Tilehurst and Whitley Youth Centre.
Services would also be delivered from a variety of sites across the borough through two other types of building.
Satellite buildings, which would deliver universal and targeted services, are proposed for Caversham Children’s Centre and Nursery School, Coley Children’s Centre at St Mary and All Saints and Battle Library or perhaps Civitas School.
Community venues would also be used to deliver services on a temporary basis where there is demand from locations such as Emmer Green Community Centre, Tilehurst Library, Hexham Road Community Centre etc.
Many of the buildings which currently offer Children’s Centre services will continue to be active as they also function as nursery schools and offer childcare facilities. Some buildings could be sold as part of the council’s ongoing asset realisation project while others could be used by the council for alternative purposes related to family service provision.
Members of the ACE committee will be asked to give the go-ahead for a 12 week public consultation on the proposals with the results being reported back to the Policy Committee for a decision in May 2017.
The remodelling of the Children’s Centre service would result in savings of about £400,000 by the end of 2018/19, as agreed by the Policy Committee in July, which represents 32 per cent of the current spend. Cuts in government funding and increased demands on services mean the council has already made £65 million of savings since 2011 and £42 million of savings are still needed by 2020.
Councillor Jan Gavin, Reading’s Lead Councillor for Children’s Services, said:
“Reading has always had a generous number of Children’s Centres across the borough offering a wide range of services for families.
“Unfortunately, swingeing cuts in government funding means we can no longer continue to offer the same level of service and have to focus on directing our resources to the families who most need support.
“All families will still receive universal services, such as ante-natal and post-natal care, but we have had to look at more efficient ways of delivering them.
“We are proposing a 12-week consultation on the remodelling of Children’s Centre services and I would encourage everyone who is interested to read the consultation document and have their say.”
The consultation document on the Remodelling of Reading Children’s Centres will be available on the council’s website from 4th January 2017 and hard copies will be available at Children’s Centres, libraries and the Civic Offices.
The full committee report on Children’s Centres can be found at: http://www.reading.gov.uk/media/6486/Item16/pdf/Item16.pdf