Help us review countywide Children's Centre services to expand offer for families and children aged 0 to 19

Published

Suffolk County Council has launched a review of its Children’s Centre service with a view to strengthening its current family offer and expanding services.

There will be no reduction in service budget as a result of this review. In fact, any savings made through the process, such as existing building costs, will be re-invested back into the 0-19 service to strengthen the current offer to families and to help develop future provision for young people and their families across Suffolk. It is important to note that this also means there will be no staff redundancies as part of this review. 

The consultation will run for the next seven weeks until 5pm on Sunday 1 March 2020. Details of the process, all supporting information and the consultation questionnaire can be found on the council’s website at www.suffolk.gov.uk/ccconsultation.

Anyone who does not have internet access can complete the online questionnaire at their local library for free or request a hard copy or easy read version of the questionnaire by calling 0345 603 1842.

As part of the consultation, there will be a number of public drop-in events taking place across Suffolk where any families interested in taking part in the consultation can meet members of the service team:

  • Tuesday 21 January, 10am to 12pm at St Marks Church Hall, Lowestoft
  • Tuesday 28 January, 10am to 12pm at Whitton Clinic, Ipswich
  • Tuesday 28 January, 2pm to 4pm at Stevenson Centre, Great Cornard
  • Wednesday 29 January, 10am to 12pm at Woodbridge Library, Woodbridge
  • Thursday 30 January, 10am to 12pm at the Apex, Studio 2, Bury St Edmunds

An extensive period of research and evaluation into current service provision was undertaken ahead of developing the proposal. This involved local analysis of each centre to understand how many local families have access to the site, who uses it and how far it is away from other community facilities that deliver family services including local libraries. Details of this research were published in the Cabinet report on 16 July 2019.

The research focused on:

  • the need for nursery provision in the area
  • the level of local deprivation
  • the existing Outreach offer
  • the cost of running the Children's Centre
  • usage of the buildings by partners, e.g. Health
  • the attendance of vulnerable families in areas where Children’s Centre buildings have previously closed

As a result of this research, a proposal has been developed as part of the review which suggests the following future approach:

  • Develop 16 full-time Family Hubs
  • Develop 11 part-time Family Hubs
  • Re-purpose nine sites for much needed nursery place provision or school provision that do not offer suitable accommodation for a Family Hub or where there are not enough nursery places
  • Increase the existing Outreach service across Suffolk
  • Close two buildings that cannot be re-purposed as a Family Hub and are unsuitable for use as nursery or school provision
  • Retain and improve the existing service offer through Suffolk Libraries

What is a Family Hub?

Family Hubs will be at the heart of the service going forward and will provide the location from where services are delivered and coordinated. The proposal is to have at least one main Family Hub in each area of Suffolk and provide services from other community sites closer to families. A Family Hub offers a range of services to families for all children and young people aged 0-19 and carers, with a particular focus on supporting the most vulnerable.

Part-time Family Hubs will be smaller sites incorporating a number of services e.g. Midwifery, Speech and Language, Child Health Clinics and group work delivered by the council or its partners. Part-time Family Hubs allow staff to provide Outreach services at other venues in nearby rural communities. When the part-time Family Hub is not in use by Family Hub staff, the building can be used by partners to maximise usage.

What is Outreach?

One way to support the most vulnerable families accessing services closer to where they live is by bringing services to them through Outreach. Outreach refers to services that the council can deliver on a mobile basis, in locations where they are needed. This will support existing community activities such as parent and toddler groups and use some of the community venues such as community centres, village halls, sports centres to deliver Outreach services.

Working with the community ensures delivery of the right services for families; this could be providing a Stay and Play group, or offering tailored individual family support. This is an important way of supporting families and helping more children and young people get access to high quality play experiences while supporting their health and wellbeing. Outreach provides help, information, advice and guidance to isolated families who without it, might not otherwise have access to such services.

What is meant by Re-purposing?

Some existing Children's Centre buildings have been identified as potential sites to support the delivery of much needed additional nursery and school provision. These sites would be re-designated from their current use and provide primarily nursery services in addition to some Outreach services for families.

Underpinning the review is the fact that no savings are being made as result of adopting this approach. Any potential savings made through re-purposing or closing current sites will be reinvested into the service to support the additional Outreach offer and support services managed through Family Hubs.

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

“Whilst the proposal offers a range of ideas that I believe will strengthen and expand our service offer to young people aged 0-19, I strongly believe in listening and taking on board the views and ideas of families who currently use the service and also from those who may look to begin using the service in years to come. I want to make it very clear that this review is all about improving our current and future offer for the most vulnerable families and communities in Suffolk who need access to such services including Early Years. Any potential savings made as part of this review to current arrangements will be re-invested back into the service to broaden the current offer for families and young people aged 0-19 in Suffolk.

“I encourage everyone to take part and offer your valued opinion and ideas as part of the process, particularly if you and your family currently access the range of services we provide or might look to use them in the future. Whilst some communities may be considering sending group forms of representation as part of the process, I would really hope that every person interested in really helping us develop these services for the future also takes the time to fully complete their own questionnaire to ensure we capture every view and idea so we can fully consider these as part of the process before any decision is taken.”