Family Support Service: next steps considered

Plans for a new Family Support Service will be discussed at Somerset County Council next week.

The Council’s Children’s Services are looking to develop the service to help make support for families and children as accessible as possible for those who need it most.

It would bring together the Council’s getset service (which includes Children’s Centre services) and the support offered by Health Visitors and School Nurses, while putting even more emphasis on delivering support in community venues and people’s homes.

There are nearly 300 regular support services and activities being delivered in nearly 150 locations across the county, the majority in community venues. Under the plans these would continue and the Council would look to develop what’s on offer.

Universal and targeted support, such as Health Visitor services, would continue in community venues and in people homes. And nurseries currently operating from children’s centre buildings will continue to operate, and in some areas be expanded and enhanced.

More than 800 people took part in a consultation last year on initial proposals. Having considered the responses, the recommendation is that those initial proposals should be taken forward. They are still believed to be the best way to improve access, integrate support and get more from the funding available while meeting the demand for childcare and nursery places.

Councillor Frances Nicholson, Cabinet Member for Children and Families, said: “This support is hugely important and I thank everyone who took part in the consultation. One thing that came through clearly was a misconception that changing the status of buildings would mean a reduction in services and support – that is not the case.

“People highlighted a number of places where more work is needed, including Wellington, Chard, Minehead, Yeovil and Shepton Mallet, and we will do that more detailed work. But we firmly believe that these proposals are still the best way forward for families and children across the county”.

The proposals included moving from the current arrangement of 24 Sure Start Children’s Centres to a network of eight Family Centres that would coordinate the work in the surrounding areas, with the remaining 16 buildings having their Children’s Centre designation removed but continuing to offer early childhood services including education and nursery places.

The development of the Family Support Service will be discussed by the Scrutiny Committee for Children and Families when it meets on 26 January. A final decision on whether the proposals are taken forward will be made by the Cabinet when it meets on 12 February.

The same Scrutiny and Cabinet meetings will also consider a recommendation that the Public Health Nursing services currently provided by the Somerset Partnership NHS Trust, be delivered by the County Council as part of the new Family Support Service.

If agreed by Cabinet on 12 February, the ultimate aim would be for staff currently employed by the Trust to transfer to the new service within the County Council.

The report for the Scrutiny Committee is available on the Council’s website