The fu­ture of Bucks’ Early Help chil­dren’s ser­vice to go to con­sul­ta­tion

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - FRONT PAGE - by ANNA VUJICIC & JASMINE RAPSON

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.”

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