COUNTY FAVOURS ‘FAMILY CENTRE’ OPTION
The future of Bucks’ Early Help children’s service to go to consultation
REPLACING 35 children’s centres with 14 “family centres” is the county council’s preferred option as it launches a consultation on the future of the Early Help service in Bucks.
From October 4 the public will be able to have their say on the service, which provides early intervention support for families.
A total of three options laying out the potential future of the service have been unveiled by Bucks County Council (BCC) and will be presented to families at information sessions as part of the consultation.
The council’s “preferred option” is opening 14 family centres, which would offer help to families with young people aged 0 to 19.
Three of the centres, known as ‘family centres plus’, would be open five days a week, operating in Chesham, Aylesbury and Wycombe.
Children’s services chiefs say the plan would provide support for a wider range of people, as the current centres only support children up to the age of five, while a majority of people who need the Early Help services are not accessing them.
At a press conference on September 20, BCC’s director of education, Sarah Callaghan, said the new service would aim to help families with a broader range of needs, such as victims of domestic violence and those struggling with substance abuse and mental health issues.
“So although we know it is critically important to support our children from zero to five, we also know the issues that are manifesting themselves in our schools, going through to social care,” she said. “We also know those young people need our support and we need to put that support in earlier on.”
Another option would be keeping the Early Help service as it is and the county’s children’s centres would remain open, although budget constraints would mean reduced opening hours and services.
Closing all current children’s services in favour of a “fully targeted outreach service” is the third and final option put forward by BCC, which would be delivered by teams working in different areas.
The controversial debate on changes to the service has rumbled on for over a year, following the announcement the 35 centres in the county could be replaced with nine “hubs”.
A public consultation was abandoned in March, after families and campaigners raised concerns over the quality of the investigation.
Alka Dass, head of the campaign group Save Bucks Children’s Centres, said: “Fourteen family centres is not enough for the Bucks population. I have spoken with mothers who are already reluctant to go, so will not go if there are less centres.
“The council’s emphasis on early intervention is not true. It’s not about people, it’s about the budget.
“I want to know the exact services that a family centre would offer and an example of a timetable with the number of hours the reduced service will give.”