The Serco-led partnership Together for Children worked with all 152 top-tier local authorities in England to support the delivery of the children’s centre programme. Established in over 3,500 communities by March 2010, the children’s centres offer a unique opportunity for transformational change in the way that services across early childhood are shaped and delivered. The most developed children’s centres demonstrate the reality of well-integrated, locally determined services, where resources are maximised and support is tailored to the needs of users.
Working for Walsall
Palfrey Sure Start Children’s Centre in Walsall serves a heavily populated area with families from a wide range of ethnic backgrounds, including people of Pakistani, White British, Bengali and Indian origin. The proportion of families from homes where English is not the first language is much higher than the national average. The area is also one of high unemployment, so the support services required are many and varied.
The centre works closely with a range of service providers to help ensure effective use of the resources available to the community. It acts as a link from birth to school, helping ensure that children are well prepared for learning when they enter local early years settings such as a school-based nursery class or community, and private nurseries. Links with the local health services have led to a rise in the immunisation rate from 50% to 94%. Partnership with a local training agency has resulted in large numbers of users improving their language skills, which in turn opens up opportunities for training and employment. This is coupled with advice and guidance on the steps they need to take to prepare for such opportunities. Partnership with the Walsall Welfare Rights Unit has maximised the incomes of families by ensuring that they get the help and guidance required to claim all the benefits to which they are entitled.
Through a range of routes, services users are able to influence and shape the services to meet their needs. The Parents Group is one of several forums in which service users can talk about the running and direction of the centre. Once a month, parents and staff get together to talk about ideas, feedback from other parents, successes and concerns. The Parents Group then has a further role to play through Parent Representatives on the Partnership Board. The Board meets every six weeks and is a statutory part of the arrangement for governance, acting as a link with the community and advising the community association that leads Palfrey children’s centre. It is through full involvement like this that the centre has come to be seen as the heart of the community.
In a recent Ofsted report, in which the centre was graded ‘outstanding’, a senior health manager noted that, “The centre acts as a conduit to pull all services together so that hard to reach families can be effectively supported, barriers are removed and new initiatives can be introduced. The outreach workers are excellent in developing community cohesion, targeting disadvantaged groups and contacting those who traditionally are less visible members of the community.”