Final decision on children's services set for spring

Cabinet Member Warren Whyte meets with campaigners last year
Cabinet Member Warren Whyte meets with campaigners last year

More than 700 people had their say during the latest consultation on controversial plans to cut children’s centres in Bucks.

In October last year a fresh consultation was launched on major changes to Bucks County Council’s (BCC) Early Help service – which provides early intervention support for families, often tackling issues such as domestic abuse, mental health problems and neglect.

The latest set of proposals include replacing the 35 children’s centres in the county with 14 family centres – which BCC says would help a wider age-range of young people.

During a meeting of BCC’s children’s select committee on Tuesday, cabinet member for children’s services, Warren Whyte, thanked the 750 people who responded to the consultation, and said a final decision is expected in the spring.

He said: “The Early Help consultation closed just before Christmas, so we will be progressing with the next stages of the Early Help in the coming months.

“Thank you for everyone who took part in that consultation, we had over 750 responses in the end and the team have been busy going through all the consultation responses and we are starting to review how we update the Early Help strategy.

“I saw the final draft [on Monday] so I am hopeful in the coming weeks we will conclude work on that, ready for a spring cabinet decision on a new service proposal.”

Before the consultation started, BCC unveiled three options laying out the potential future of the service.

Children’s service leaders made it clear their “preferred option” is replacing the children’s centres with family centres.

However, operating the current Early Help service with reduced opening hours or launching a targeted outreach service delivered by different teams from different areas are also on the cards.

The controversial debate on changes to the service has rumbled on for over a year – following the announcement the 35 centres in the county could be replaced with nine “hubs” in 2017.

An initial public consultation was abandoned in March – after families and campaigners raised concerns over the quality of the investigation.