Please see below for my submission to Wandsworth Council’s consultation on Children’s centres, specifically its proposal to ‘de-designate’ Garratt Park Children’s centre in Earlsfield. Many thanks to parents and carers who have got in touch with me and shared their feedback.
The Education and Children’s Services Committee will be reviewing consultation feedback and final proposals at the end of June. More details on this to follow.
Children’s Centre consultation: my submission
I am responding to the children’s centres consultation in my capacity as a local councillor (Earlsfield ward). I am also a registered user of the Garratt Park centre. My response focuses on the proposals to de-designate Garratt Park Children’s Centre (questions 3-5). It has been informed by consultation with local parents and carers who use the centre and its outreach services on the Henry Prince Estate, including feedback from the Parents Forum and Advisory Board.
3. Do you agree or disagree with the proposal to de-designate Garratt Park as a children’s centre?
I support the original proposals for de-designation as set out in paper 15-437, which proposed bringing Garratt Park under a shared management structure with Smallwood – to create efficiencies and cost savings, as well as eliminate the requirement for ofsted inspection – whilst ‘retaining key services such as ‘stay and play’ (para 3). I also support the principle of jointly providing services across children’s centres, such as weaning sessions or baby massage.
However, the proposal for de-designation as set out in the consultation document has changed from the details set out in the original committee paper. Here, the proposal is that the centre will no longer be managed by Smallwood but by a private operator, with the addition that this may be accompanied by the introduction of charges. This marks a significant change and has implications for families in Earlsfield being able to access universal provision.
Based on the information set out in the current consultation document, I am not yet satisfied that the revised proposals comply with relevant statutory duties and guidance, namely to: “ensure that a network of children’s centres is accessible to all families with young children in the area”; and to “target children’s centres at young children and families in the area who are at risk of poor outcomes” (Sure Start children’s centres statutory guidance 2013, cited in para 99 of paper 15-437). I therefore set out a number of recommendations and issues requiring further clarification below.
4. Do you agree or disagree with the following statements:
I would like universal stay and play to be available at the Garratt Park site. Agree.
5. General comments on the Garratt Park proposals.
I am concerned that the current proposals would mark the end of universal children’s service provision in Earlsfield, requiring parents either to travel to already heavily subscribed services in Tooting (Smallwood) or Putney (West Hill) that are up to 30 minutes journey time – or to pay for services locally.
Increased journey times and increased costs (either from travel or entry charges), will inevitably impact on the accessibility of early years services in Earlsfield, either deterring parents from using, or certainly reducing frequency of use. Reduced use and contact will limit the ability of early years professionals to identify needs that are universal to parents and children regardless of socio-economic status- for example, in relation to mental health or domestic violence – and / or to signpost to specialist services as required.
The consultation document makes no reference to important outreach services provided on the Henry Prince Estate, including twice weekly stay and play services. I would recommend that these services are retained in order to reach the most deprived households in the ward. These could be managed by another children’s centre.
The original committee paper 15-437 makes no reference to a group of special needs children from Siward Road who regularly use the Garratt Park Centre. What consideration has been given to this vulnerable group as part of an equality impact assessment? What are the proposals for their continued access to local services?
I would like confirmation that neighbouring children’s centres have the capacity to absorb additional users from Earlsfield and that their ‘reach areas’ would be adjusted accordingly. I would like clarification on what plans are currently being made to this effect. I have witnessed first hand parents being turned away from stay and play at West Hill because they were oversubsribed. I have also been contacted by parents who have been turned away from Smallwood, being told they live outside their reach area or that sessions have become ‘invite only’. If they are not accessible for parents in Earlsfield, then they are not universal services.
Greater clarity is needed on proposals for private provision at the Garratt Park centre. What providers have been considered or indeed approached? What local oversight or accountability provisions would be in place (e.g. Would there continue to be a parents forum and advisory board to oversee service provision for example?). What would the charges be and would certain households be exempt for charges based on income? What delivery model is being considered to maximise the potential income from the site – income which could be used to offset the costs of stay and play services and therefore reduce the need for charges? It is difficult to make an informed opinion on the introduction of private provision without any of this information. I would recommend that officers work with centre users to review and develop options for future consideration.
There is a unique value to localised, universal provision. It allows parents to get to know other parents in their immediate neighbourhood and form invaluable peer support networks that can last up until school (probably the same school) and beyond, and help reduce reliance on statutory services further down the line. This is all the more important in a borough like Wandsworth, where parents do not necessarily have extended family living round the corner, let alone in the same city or even country. The less localised the provision, the harder it is to realise these types of benefits.
Based on the outstanding issues above, my overall recommendation is that the de-designation of Garratt Park Children’s centre is carried out in line with the original proposal as set out in committee paper 15-457 (as approved by the Committee and full council), namely to bring services under shared management of another children’s centre. This will meet the intended objectives of reducing costs whilst retaining universal, free provision to local families, including those identified as in priority need.