A wide ranging consultation which attracted comments from more than 700 local people has helped shape the future model for children’s centre services in Wiltshire.
Wiltshire Council launched a consultation on the future of its 30 children’s centres in September this year holding 44 information events across the county with 738 people responding to an online survey.
The council is investing £3.5m into its children centre services and wanted the public’s views on proposals for a new model for delivering the services. These include centre staff moving away from being based in buildings in some areas to delivering services in community locations.
This will ensure key staff are retained and continue to deliver the vital help and support in communities with a particular focus on families in most need.
The majority of the vacated buildings could then be used to provide extra childcare facilities to meet the new government policy on extending free entitlement to childcare for three and four year olds.
Areas with recognised levels of need and higher numbers of young children would continue to have access to a designated building and all areas would be linked to a children’s centre building within their cluster area. The review was put in place as contracts for the four current providers are coming to an end in June 2016.
The proposals were revised following feedback from the consultation including:
• Ensuring alternative venues for children’s centre services are available on a regular basis
• Potential for some previously dedicated children’s centres to offer extended childcare for three and four year olds and continue to deliver some children centre services in the future
• Suggestions for additional alternative venues for delivery of children’s centre services
• Communities putting forward ideas on financially supporting the continued delivery of children’s centre services in their area
Retaining 17 of the current children’s centre buildings including Trowbridge and Mere to ensure need highlighted during the consultation process can be adequately met
Under the proposals approved at cabinet today (15 December) a key part of the tender document for new providers will be ensuring local venues have already been identified to host regular drop in sessions and activities for a minimum of one full day per week in each area. Local libraries will also be used as a point of access and information for families.
The council would retain 17 children’s centre buildings with the potential for an additional two buildings in Wilton and Chippenham to be used for delivery of children’s centre services if providers and the local community are willing to support it with funding.
Cabinet also decided there would be further consultation in the Bradford on Avon area on alternative venues to provide children’s centre services following concerns raised that this had not been fully explored. This consultation will continue during the tender process to run the new contracts for delivering children’s centre services that will start in January. As part of the tender process, organisations interested in bidding to run services may also wish to put forward proposals on suitable venues.
The new service specification and contract for children’s centre providers will set out the requirements to ensure close partnership working in a range of community venues accessible to whole communities. There will also be a clear point of access for help and advice in each children’s centre cluster.
Laura Mayes, cabinet member for children’s centre services said: “I’m grateful to all the people who have taken time to be part of this consultation. These are not easy decisions to make but our focus has to always be on ensuring we provide the best early years support possible for children with the funding we have.
“I believe these latest proposals, shaped with feedback from the communities, will mean we can continue to invest in our key staff and provide that vital support to ensure the money spent has the greatest positive impact on young children’s development.”