Some services provided for children aged between 0 – 11 could change significantly under plans by Bath & North East Somerset Council to target a reduced overall level of spending towards the most vulnerable families in the area and build upon the excellent work carried out by the staff and volunteers in our Centres.
Challenging budget context
Local authorities have faced public spending cuts almost unprecedented since the Second World War and the Council continues to maintain its sound financial position and balance its budget. Despite limiting reductions to about 1.3% of our total budget for each of the next three years we have made clear that some difficult decisions need to be made including reviewing the levels of service we provide and to whom.
Central Government changes to Early Years funding for 2 and 3 year olds, combined with cuts in ‘Early Intervention’ grants mean that the Council must re-shape its services for families. As part of the budget decision in February, the Council proposed a budget for early years services of £2.6 million from 2015/16; a reduction of £2.3 million.
The changes focus on extending the close working relationship the Council has with partners in the voluntary, charitable and community sectors to provide highly valued services whilst responding to the national economic situation.
Future for Children’s Centre buildings
From April 2015 all eleven Children’s Centre buildings would be kept, although the services provided from them may change.
The proposed scenario is that three Centre “hubs” would exist at Bath (Parkside or Twerton), Keynsham/ Chew Valley (Keynsham Children’s Centre), and the Somer Valley (Radstock Children’s Centre). These would act as central bases for staff, Health Visitors, other partners and volunteers as well as locations for funded targeted sessions and volunteer Stay and Play activities.
It is envisaged that the remaining Centres would be run by local partners, such as nurseries, schools and the charitable / voluntary sector but still be open for use as outreach for Centre staff on a more part-time basis. This could mean the Centres being used by a variety of organisations, including the Council for its targeted sessions as well as groups from the community/ charitable / voluntary sector. The Council would be open to alternative forms of provision and a range of providers delivering these services.
Priority for the most vulnerable families
In November 2012, we made clear that across all of our services for children, early years and youth future spending would be targeted at those young people and families who are in greatest need.
Consistent with this message, all sessions funded by the Council at Children’s Centres would be targeted at providing services towards the most vulnerable children and families, rather than being open access for all families. These services include parenting programmes, healthy eating programmes, postnatal support and teenage mothers support. An Outreach Team who would go into the community to visit vulnerable families would also be maintained albeit at a reduced level.
The aim is to deliver services for the most vulnerable families with children under 11 years, which supports parents to have positive parenting aspirations and parenting skills, and supports children to develop well and be ready for school. We will continue to do this with our partners in the voluntary play and family support sector and with schools.
Supporting services for all
Health Visitors for all families will continue to be provided as well as free nursery provision for targeted 2 year olds and all 3 and 4 year olds.
There is already an excellent network of around 35 volunteers providing many sessions at some of our Children’s Centres. We intend to build upon this work using these sessions as an example to help recruit, train and support volunteers to provide more services in the future, like Stay and Play. Through training and support, these voluntary sessions would be delivered to the standards anticipated by both the Council and Ofsted.
The buildings would also be available for existing services to run sessions as before; for example, the Citizens Advice Bureau, Job Centre Plus, Health Clinics, Child minder groups and nurseries.
Next steps for our plans
The Early Years, Children and Youth Policy Development & Scrutiny Panel have looked at proposals to re-structure the service and will discuss them at their meeting on Monday 14th October 2013. The Panel will put forward its recommendations for the Cabinet to consider at its Wednesday 13th November 2013 meeting.
What do the early years 0 – 11 services cover?
- Children’s Centres in the voluntary and statutory sectors;
- Support to early years and childcare settings from the Early Years Foundation Stage Team;
- Voluntary sector services for Play and specialist Family Support;
- Parent Support Advisers for targeted primary schools;
- Some commissioned health services.