Council set to launch public consultation on new approach to providing services for Suffolk children and families

Published

A county-wide public consultation is set to be considered next week following a thorough review by a group of county councillors.

The proposals would change the way some council services are provided to young children and extend access to a wider range of young people and families.

In February 2019, Suffolk County Council set up a cross-party Policy Development Panel (PDP) to look at potential future options for providing a range of services to children, young people and families, including the role of children’s centres. The panel’s recommendations will be debated by the council’s Cabinet on Tuesday 16 July. If approved, a full public consultation will be launched later this year.

The panel’s proposals come after a thorough review of evidence on the way services are currently provided, including the 38 children’s centres across Suffolk. In coming to their recommendations, the panel looked at national and local evidence, including national policy encouraging public bodies to bring together services provided by councils, health partners, community groups, charities and private companies. Panel members also reviewed how other authorities have undertaken similar reviews and spent time visiting centres across Suffolk.

The proposal recommends adopting a Family Hub model to meet the needs of modern families who access services in many different ways:

  1. Family Hub sites: Larger centres located in the more deprived locations across Suffolk, incorporating a range of services delivered by the council, health and the voluntary sector.
  2. Part-time sites: Smaller centres located in/or nearby deprived areas in Suffolk, providing a number of universal services and some services provided by partners. Part time sites will allow current resource to provide an outreach service at other venues in nearby where experienced staff will visit families directly in isolated communities. 
  3. Outreach approach: Delivering universal and targeted services directly to families or through particular community points of contact (e.g. antenatal group, infant massage, domestic violence support, neonatal mental health etc.) to areas of Suffolk where we have identified demand.

By adopting the Family Hub approach, The Panel believes the current offer for services in Suffolk can be expanded to support a wider range of children and young people aged between 0-19 to include all/or elements of services covering; mental health support for children and their families, antenatal support, advice on parenting skills and healthy lifestyles, communication and language support and techniques for infant feeding and reducing conflict.

The panel’s research between February 2019 and June 2019 found evidence that shows Suffolk’s services have evolved over time and the previous introduction of high-quality integrated services and the increased use of outreach service where staff support families directly in their homes and other facilities such as libraries has reduced costs from £8.8 million in 2013/14 to £6.3 million in 2019/20.

The PDP is recommending the use of 16 full-time Family Hubs and nine part-time Family Hubs, enabling the delivery of Outreach services for families from at least 55 venues, in 43 different towns and villages across Suffolk.

Related services currently provided through a number of local libraries would remain in place and be expanded further into larger libraries in the county to ensure information and support is offered in all sites.

At present Children’s Centre services operate out of a network of 38 fixed buildings delivering Outreach activities through 50 health clinics and groups in a range of buildings. There are also dedicated services in 12 Suffolk Library sites with a further 32 library sites providing information, advice and guidance and group activities for under 5s aligned with Health & Children Centre services.

To meet the continued increase in demand for places in Suffolk, eleven Children’s Centres would be re-purposed specifically for the use of early years provision (i.e. nurseries) or become a centre for SEND provision. The Panel is proposing the closure of two existing buildings where evidence and feedback suggests there is not a particularly high volume of service demand by vulnerable families, and where related services are already available from a number of other locations which are within a short walking distance. These locations are:

  • Caterpillar, Woodbridge
  • Chatterbox, North Ipswich

Councillor Gordon Jones, Suffolk County Council’s Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, Education and Skills said:

“I want to thank members of the Panel for their support, commitment and research surrounding this important piece of work that seeks to improve the way in which the council supports some of the most vulnerable members of our community. I can see that the proposal they are putting forward is based on an extensive period of research and evidence gathering.

“What I want to see us do now is move to a period of full public consultation to speak again to families currently using these services to see what they think about this proposal and hear from those people who may use such services in the future to understand their views and what the service can do for them. We also need to ensure that staff and wider communities are in strong a position to understand exactly what the PDP’s proposal involves and how this approach may work in practice.”