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Birmingham consults on proposals to radically reform children’s services

A consultation has been launched this week to garner opinions about major changes to the way children’s services are delivered in Birmingham.

The city council is consulting on a new structure that will bring together the current health visiting service and children’s early years’ service to create local ‘early years hubs’ and a network of community-based services.

It is hoped that the change, which will be delivered by Birmingham Community Healthcare NHS Trust, will make services more accessible for families who are in the most need for them.

“We need to target services towards those children and families that need them the most, and where they need them most,” said Cllr Brigid Jones, cabinet member for children and families at Birmingham City Council.

“Rather than focusing on bricks and mortar we need to make services available at places children and families use the most – for example, having access points in GP surgeries.

“The new system will provide a far more integrated service, so instead of having 76 different contracts, creating a widely differing service depending on where you live, there will be one contract with Birmingham Community Healthcare.”

Cllr Jones admitted that though it was not ideal that the plans were being implemented with less money, the new system would still create a fairer and better service for those in need.

“If we keep the system we presently have, it would inevitably lead to the closure of all our children’s centres, which surely nobody wants,” she concluded.

The new model will also create more outlets across the city, more flexible opening hours including evenings and weekends and access at all levels for children with disabilities.

Gareth Howells, nursing and therapies director at Birmingham Community Healthcare, said: “The partnerships we are forming are designed to broaden that offer and give us greater capability to respond quickly to additional issues and needs as appropriate in individual cases.

“Our aim is to ensure that all of Birmingham’s children are healthy, happy and well prepared to start school, helping to fulfil Birmingham City Council’s vision to ‘give every child in Birmingham an equal chance to have the best start in life so they can achieve their full potential’.”

But union the GMB have hit back at the plans, saying that the scheme would close 26 out of 61 of Birmingham’s children’s centres, something that was “absolutely disgraceful”.

It also commented that the plan was evidence of the Conservative’s continuing austerity agenda which has seen £770m already slashed from Birmingham City’s budget.

Gillian Ogilvie, GMB regional organiser said: “These plans are absolutely disgraceful – and a shocking indictment of austerity Britain. Birmingham City Council needs to do more to stop these devastating closures and listen to the people that need to use these services, rather than just allowing the government to continue with their agenda.

“The GMB is calling on the council to try and prevent these closures and demand more money from the government to ensure vital support for parents and families are provided.”

The consultation will run until 17 August 2017 and can be found here.

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