Residents, health professionals, voluntary organisations and other stakeholders are being asked to give their views on a Hampshire County Council proposal to transform and modernise existing early help services to better support families in need.
A ten week public consultation has opened this week, on proposals for developing a new, single, integrated Family Support Service that would bring together the work of early help hubs, children’s centre services and youth support services, while aligning closely with the Supporting (Troubled) Families Programme.
Launching the consultation, Councillor Keith Mans, Deputy Leader and Executive Lead Member for Children’s Services at the County Council, explained that the proposed Family Support Service would provide an opportunity to bring together separate services into a single, integrated service that better meets the needs of vulnerable families with children aged 0 – 19 years (extending to age 25 if the young person has learning difficulties or a disability), and also would improve access to a range of other services including child and adolescent mental health services and a range of public health and other support services.
He said: “During the 2015 public consultation on options to help manage the County Council’s £98 million funding shortfall by April 2017, people told us that services for children – particularly the vulnerable – were among those they wanted us to continue to deliver. Therefore, with public sector budgets continuing to be reduced by central Government, it is vital that we make sure the available resources we do have in Hampshire are focused on those who have high levels of need of our help, care and protection.
“The proposal to form a single, joined-up Family Support Service would involve reshaping how early help support for families is delivered in the longer term, to ensure that those who do not meet the threshold for statutory social care, continue to receive the support they need in the future.”
The aim of the proposed integrated Family Support Service would be to target help specifically to vulnerable families with children who have multiple needs, often requiring the involvement of more than one agency. Tailor-made support would be provided at a local level, in order to respond to the needs of local families. With one point of contact, families would no longer need to go to different agencies, as is currently the case.
If the decision is taken to go ahead with this proposal, the main difference would be seen in children’s centre services. Activities that are currently available would no longer be open to all families for free. Instead, families who do not have any specific need for support would be directed to other community groups providing services such as parent and toddler groups. Children’s centre services would be targeted to those families and children who are in need of help and support.
Under the proposal, services currently delivered by early help teams and the Supporting (Troubled) Families Programme would not significantly change but would be integrated and aligned within the single Family Support Service.
In recent years, the number of home visits for early help has been increasing, and staff work more and more in the community. This means that fewer families are travelling to a ‘centre’, or ‘building’, instead using more modern forms of communication to access support and help locally. As a result, a significant number of children’s centre buildings are unused for periods of time yet still incur overhead costs.
The proposal for a new Family Support Service includes the proposition to reduce the number of buildings in use across the county but to maintain a fully operational children’s centre – as part of the Family Support Service – in each of Hampshire’s 11 districts, located in areas where families who have high levels of need live. These centres would also serve as the local hub for the Family Support Service. By rationalising the number of buildings in direct use, the County Council could save up to £1 million.
The majority of current children’s centres are based in schools or other community venues, e.g. community centres. If the proposal goes ahead, it is anticipated that facilities that would not be retained for families with high levels of need could continue to be used as outreach venues to deliver health and early help services, or could be released for other community needs, such as for pre-schools.
For more information, and to respond to the consultation, visit hants.gov.uk/childrens-services-consultation. Paper copies of the consultation can be obtained by contacting 0300 555 1384 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline for responses is midday on 3 May 2016.
The Executive Lead Member for Children’s Services, Councillor Keith Mans, will consider the feedback from the consultation when making a decision on the proposal in July 2016.