Bucks County Council (BCC) held a well-attended launch event on Tuesday morning in Berryfields for its new Family Support Service that was rolled out just over three weeks ago.
Previously we've reported that as part of a £3.1m cost saving scheme, the council has cut its 35 children's centres to just 16, with the new service catering for 0-19 year olds (or 0-25 year olds in the case of special needs) as opposed to just 0-5 year olds.
BCC cabinet member for children's services, Warren Whyte, was in attendance and we interviewed him about the changes.
We put it to him that some parents had expressed frustration at their questions not being answered, and that they would have liked to have been invited so they could have asked him questions face to face.
Mr Whyte said:
“I've responded to all the questions I've been asked over the summer and all I can say is perhaps the response they didn't like.”
We asked if, during a time of rising numbers of children living in poverty and requiring specialist help, was it counter-intuitive to be closing 19 children's centres?
Councillor Whyte replied:
“You might think it's counter-intuitive but if you'd read all the research and the stuff that we published during the consultation process you'd realise that the old system was not working. The old system was causing a bigger rise in referrals to social services.”
Back in July, a legal challenge had been brought against BCC's decision to close the 19 centres, but the case was lost at the High Court. Regarding this, the cabinet member for children's services said:
“It was comprehensively dismissed and the appeal was dismissed as well. There are a small group of people who are not happy with the re-organisation of the service, I understand that, and that's why we met them and talked to them and they took part in the consultation.”
We asked Mr Whyte to summarise why the new service would bring about improvements. He said:
“If you read our family support strategy, it's a partnership approach, so health visitors are making checks and that's the same as it was before, none of that has changed. It's also a partnership approach with education and it's not just nought to five, it's now nought to nineteen and nought to twenty five for special educational needs and disabilities, so it's a much more broader offer so they can now have more confidence in how they refer to the early help service.”
One of the major concerns from parents and campaign groups about the new structure is that early intervention could be at risk. On this, Mr Whyte said:
“Well this is what it's all about. One of my early meetings was actually with the early intervention foundation to better understand the philosophy of early intervention and that's what this is all about. If the parents spot something, if the family spots something that's what this is all about.”
To find out more about the Family Support Service click here