Raft of concerns raised over merging children’s services in Hertfordshire

Lara Norris, the CEO of Home-Start Hertfordshire. Courtesy of Lara Norris.

Lara Norris, the CEO of Home-Start Hertfordshire. Courtesy of Lara Norris. - Credit: Archant

There is concern that merging children’s services across Herts will lead to job losses and reduced support for vulnerable youngsters.

Herts County Council has decided to merge children’s centres, health visiting and school nursing and create family centres.

The cost-cutting changes will mean a family centre in each district for 0-19 year olds, instead of a separate children’s centre for under fives.

A range of professionals working with families attended a crisis meeting led by family support charity Home-Start Herts, which is based in Stevenage, and expressed concern that support for vulnerable children under five will be weakened under the new structure.

Lara Norris, chief executive of Home-Start Herts, said: “The biggest theme was the need for priority to be given to prevention and early intervention.

“With research indicating Early Years support has the greatest effect at the smallest cost, investment in Early Years was seen to be the key to family support and it was suggested funding needs to be ring-fenced.”

There is concern there will be job losses, loss of local knowledge, and that families will fall through the gaps.

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There is also concern decisions are being made based on finances, rather than need, compromising the quality of staff and support.

Lara said: “Efficiencies could be made by partnership working, better communication and involvement of the third sector. Funding cuts should not, however, shape services.

“The more cost effective services, such as group support, cannot out-perform more costly but effective interventions such as one-to-one support and home visiting. Vulnerable families find attending support outside the home and in group situations more difficult.”

Positive aspects of the changes were deemed to include improved links with schools, more joined up working between schools’ health and children’s centres, and that all services can work together in the best interests of the child.

A county council spokesman said: “The new service will enable us to extend the age range of the children who can access family support up to 19.

“Family support services – the current children’s centre programme – will still focus on under fives and their families and the support will not reduce.”