Improvements needed for South Somerset Children’s Centre Services

Somerset County Council today accepted a “disappointing” Ofsted inspection report into Children’s Centre Services in South Somerset.

The report has found the services to be inadequate and the Council is following up recommendation made by the inspectors as part of its commitment to improve services for children across the board.

The report was published as the County Council also announced that a new Interim Director of Children’s Services (DCS) will start at the authority next week.

Rose Collinson will take on the role for a short period until a permanent appointment to the DCS is made early in the New Year. Improving performance in Children’s Centre Services will be her key responsibility.

Cllr Frances Nicholson, Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, said: “This report is obviously very disappointing for everyone, including the staff themselves. We are looking closely at all the points raised and making the necessary improvements. We had already identified many of the issues ourselves – for example the need to target services more at those in most need – and taken steps to address them through the recent restructuring of services.”

In the summer the Council reorganised its Early Years services, which include a re-structure of Children’s Centre Services, into ‘getset’ Services. ‘getset’ is a new approach to providing all the help and support available to children, young people and families.

Ofsted itself and previously praised the “getset” concept at children’s centres and this will continue to be part of the solution for centres in South Somerset.

Cllr Nicholson added: “With ‘getset’ Services I believe we have plans to take these services forward and will be working with the new Interim DCS to do this until a permanent appointment is made as soon as possible.”

The inspectors found some families who benefitted greatly from centre services and described the support as a ‘lifeline’. Inspectors also commented that access to services was helped by the sessions delivered outside the centres and in the community.

However, significant findings in the report included that not enough people, particularly in priority groups, are using the services; records of family support work is poor and play sessions are poorly planned. The report highlighted some safety concerns – inspectors found a gate was left open at one centre, and some parents were allowed to take photos within the centres. “These safeguarding issues are valid and we have taken steps to put things right, but they are the lower end of the scale,” said Cllr Nicholson.

The inspection covered Birchfield, Reckleford and Oaklands Children’s Centres in Yeovil, Little Marsh Children’s Centre in Ilchester and Chard Children’s Centre. It also included the services provided at ‘getset’ centres in Crewkerne (Ashlands), Ilminster (Ile Valley) and Langport (The Levels). Inspectors also looked at outreach work at a number of locations.

Please note, the nurseries that share sites with some of the Children’s Centres and getset Centres did not form part of this inspection.