Hampshire County Council is to develop a new Family Support Service – modernising and transforming early help to better support families in need across the county.
The new service will bring together the work of early help hubs, children’s centre services and youth support services in to a single, joined-up service for vulnerable families with children aged 0-19 years (and young adults with learning difficulties or disability up to age 25). The service will align with the Supporting (Troubled) Families Programme.
Agreement to proposals was given by the Executive Lead Member for Children’s Services, Councillor Keith Mans at his Decision Day on 1 July 2016. He said: “In the face of on-going profound reductions in central Government funding, we are determined to maintain essential services, particularly services for those with high levels of need of our help, care and protection.
“In order to do this we have to develop ways to do things differently. I have taken into account a number of factors in making my decision – the response from our public consultation on the Family Support Service proposals, the changes in the way people are increasingly accessing information, advice and support services, the additional and complimentary support that is now available to families within the community, and the financial context within which the County Council is operating.
“This decision has not been easy but I am satisfied that this new service will support those who are most vulnerable and in need of help but who do not meet the threshold for statutory social care, while ensuring that comprehensive information, advice and signposting is provided for all.”
Councillor Mans added: “The new integrated Family Support Service will come in at a time when the number of health visitors in Hampshire has significantly increased, and when working parents of three and four year olds will be able to access 30 hours of free childcare with a nursery, pre-school or a registered early years education childminder.”
The new, integrated Family Support Service will target help specifically to vulnerable families with children who have multiple needs, often requiring the involvement of more than one agency. Tailor-made support will be provided at a local level, in order to respond to the needs of local families. With one point of contact, families will no longer need to go to different early help services, as is currently the case.
It is in children’s centre services that the main changes will be seen. Activities that are currently available to all families, for free, will no longer be available to families that are not in need of early help support. Those families will be directed to other community groups providing services, for example, parent and toddler groups or ‘Rhyme Time’. As is currently the case for early help, the Family Support Service will continue to work in partnership with midwifery, health visitor and school nurse services, as well as other health and community services.
A fully operational Children’s Centre will be maintained as part of the Family Support Service in each of Hampshire’s 11 districts. These will be located in areas where families who have high levels of need live. The 11 centres will also serve as the local hub for the Family Support Service.
Councillor Mans commented: “The 11 Children’s Centres that are to double as the Family Support Service hub have been selected on the basis that they are in an area of high deprivation and are the most used centres in that district. It is important to understand that this will not be the only location delivering services. Along with the outreach work that staff carry out and the various health services in local communities, there will be a wide range of services that all families can access, being provided by local community groups and independent providers.”
The number of home visits for early help has been steadily rising in recent years and early help professionals, including children’s centre staff, are working more and more in the local community. This has meant that fewer families are travelling to a ‘centre’, or ‘building’ to access support. Also, increasingly, families are using more modern forms of communication to access the support and help they need locally. As a result, a significant number of children’s centre buildings are unused for periods of time yet still incur overhead costs.
As the majority of current children’s centres are based in schools or other community venues such as community centres, it is anticipated that the facilities that are not being retained for families with high levels of need will continue to be used as outreach venues to deliver health and early help services, or they will be released for other community needs, such as for pre-schools.
A public and stakeholder consultation on the proposals for developing a Family Support Service ran between 23 February and 3 May 2016. In making his decision, Councillor Mans considered the outcome of the independent analysis of the 2,124 responses to the consultation together with additional comments received via post, telephone and email; and two petitions with 3,496 and 68 signatures respectively. In doing so, changes are being considered for the way in which services might run.