07 October 2013

A new model for providing support services for children and families could see Northamptonshire's children's centres developed as early help specialists with some current mainstream services being provided by the county's libraries.

Northamptonshire County Council has been changing the way it supports families by putting more emphasis on early help and prevention services with the aim of helping families as their problems arise.

This aim of this approach is to ensure that a family's difficulties are addressed quickly so that their needs do not escalate to the point where they have to access specialist services such as social care, the criminal justice system or acute health services.

To further develop this approach, the council is proposing to enhance the universal element of children centre services through libraries – to enable greater access for those services that are routinely used by all children and families. This will enable services to be more focussed on those families who may need more support.

How would the new model work?

The proposed model, which will be discussed at meeting of the council's cabinet on Tuesday (8 OCT) would see the council commission new contracts for children's centres with an emphasis on helping those families who need extra support while the LibraryPlus service would enhance its existing services for under five year olds and families to incorporate:

  • information and advice
  • registration services
  • activities for children
  • recruitment of volunteers for children's centres services

What is being proposed?

Councillor Catherine Boardman, cabinet member for children and education, said: "We are rebuilding and remodelling the support we give to children and families in Northamptonshire. Although this work was started before this year's inspection of services for child protection, the inadequate Ofsted report means there's an added imperative to get this right. We need to ensure we're making children safer by getting the right help to the right families at the right time.

"Our libraries already do a great deal of work that impacts positively on children and young people, including homework clubs, rhymetime sessions, and reading initiatives. They also provide advice and information for job seekers, small company start-ups, and social enterprises. The proposals would see them build on those excellent services to further support children and families in their own communities.

"Meanwhile, our children's centres would then be able to really focus on the early help and prevention services that will make all the difference to families experiencing the onset of challenges or problems."

To help shape the commissioning process, consultation has taken place in four strands:

  • Telephone surveys with families who use children's centres
  • Focus groups
  • Online survey
  • information and consultation events for providers of children centre and similar services

The proposals to commission new services will be discussed at a cabinet meeting at 2pm on Tuesday 8 October.

Notes to editors

There are 50 children's centres in Northamptonshire delivering education and childcare; family support; child and family health services; and support for training and employment. The council's cabinet has previously agreed that children’s centre services will be re-commissioned on the following basis:

  • There will be commissioning of provision across the whole county.
  • The provision will be divided into 10 ‘lots’, each of which will be in relation to delivery of children’s centre services in one of the agreed Early Help Forum areas across the county (Northampton is split into four Early Help Forum Areas with the other six corresponding to the remaining districts / boroughs.)
  • Provision and service specification will be based on the outcomes for children and families identified in the ‘Children and Families – Early Help & Prevention Commissioning Strategy’, the national core purpose for children’s centres and the related Ofsted inspection regime.
  • Contracts will be awarded up to March 31st 2017, with potential for extension to March 31st 2019 if performance is good, or potential to cease the contract if performance is not satisfactory
  • Other organisations/sectors, such as health service providers and JobCentre Plus will continue to have a significant role in children's centre service delivery.
  • Bidders will be required to demonstrate how they will make effective use of NCC and partner agency assets, such as buildings.