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Children’s centres may be merged
SOME children’s centres in North Yorkshire could be merged in an attempt to safeguard their future.
North Yorkshire County Council is looking to streamline the process which allows it to make decisions on facilities designed to give families of children aged under five the chance to gain advice and support and take part in activities, saying there are currently no definitive rules in place.
It has suggested separate centres could be grouped together under the same manager to cut down on paperwork and free up staff to work more closely with parents and youngsters. It claims this could also reduce the number of Ofsted inspections and the risks of a poor result from checks by watchdogs.
The issue will be discussed when the council’s executive meets next week, but officers have insisted the authority does not plan to close children’s centres and, unlike some other councils, has been opening more facilities over the last year.
Although mergers would allow separate centres to keep their own buildings, several facilities would be classed as a single centre and have one leader.
In a report, Cynthia Welbourn, corporate director for the children and young people’s service, said it was up to councils to decide what constituted “appropriate provision” of children’s centres and it had to keep this under review and make changes where necessary. She said there were currently “no clear legislative processes” for making such changes.
The authority’s leading councillors will be asked to approve a system where any proposals for changing the children’s centre set-up would be agreed by the executive members for schools and children’s services, with those publicly consulted including families who use a particular facility, staff, local schools and the wider community. Any objections would mean the full executive would make the final decision.
“The council has made, and is continuing to make, a major commitment to early intervention services, especially for children in their early years,” said Ms Welbourn’s report.
“While, at present, it is not expected that these proposals will be used for closing centre buildings, nor do we expect any of the proposals will result in staff losses, there is scope for operating more efficiently and providing a better service for our users.”
The report said some centres were already run in “clusters”, but formal mergers would “bring a greater coherence”. The council currently has 37 centres across five areas – Hambleton and the Dales, Ryedale and the coast, Craven, Brotherton/Selby /Tadcaster and Harrogate/Knaresborough/Ripon.