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Children's Centres - frequently asked questions

What is a children’s centre?

Children’s centres provide access to a range of early years’ services designed to meet the local needs of expectant parents, pre-school children (aged 0-4) and their families, in a joined-up way. Services include childcare, health, parenting and family support services. Children's centres seek to engage with all families to ensure that they are accessing universal entitlements. They work in close partnership with other agencies to offer a seamless range of services that respond to additional needs with a particular focus on early intervention and preventative work.

What services are provided?

Children’s centres provide access to community health services (such as health visiting and antenatal support); family support (available from the centre and on an outreach basis); parenting information, advice and guidance; and a range of activities that support parents to access training and employment. Some centres also offer onsite early years education integrated with childcare that is available 8am - 6pm, five days a week, 51 weeks of the year.

Where are children’s centres located? Is every community served by a centre?

All children aged 0-4 in Cheshire West and Chester have access to children’s centre services within their area. Families are free to use their local centre or may use any other centre(s) that fits in with their family or employment circumstances. Targeted and outreach services and support are available to families who would benefit from additional support. Some centres also provide access to more specialist services.

How do children’s centres fit with the development of extended school provision?

Many of our children’s centres are located on school sites, or are in close proximity to local schools. The centres are primarily designed to provide services for pre-school children however the buildings have also been designed to support schools to deliver extended services. Health professionals visiting schools may make use of the health facilities; parents of school aged children may access adult and family learning activities; parents of children of all ages may seek advice; all within the children’s centre.
Increasingly children’s centres work in close collaboration with their local Education Improvement Partnership (partnerships of local schools working together to improve achievement for all children) to ensure joined up approaches to support families to meet their children’s needs in a learning community.

How are centres governed and managed, especially if located on a school site?

Children’s centres are managed as part of Children and Young People’s Services within Cheshire West and Chester Council. Those who manage centres are drawn from a range of disciplines, including social work, nursing and teaching. They share their special areas of expertise within local networks of centres.
Each centre has an Advisory Board. The board supports the centre management to make sure that services are developed and delivered to effectively improve outcomes for local children and their families. These groups will include parents (who may also have their own forum), service providers and community representatives.
Where centres are on school sites there will often be joint management agreements in relation to premises, caretaking and cleaning. Head teachers/school Governors will usually sit on Advisory Boards and many centre managers are also members of school Governing Bodies.

How do childcare arrangements operate within the centre?

In some centres childcare will be integrated with early years education and will be operational from 8am - 6pm, 51 weeks of the year. This is usually delivered by an independent (private, voluntary or social enterprise) nursery provider. The provider will work with the children’s centre and the children’s centre qualified teacher to ensure that provision is high quality, accessible and flexible to meet the needs of the local community. Childcare providers will be contracted to operate an admissions policy and charging structure that supports the objectives of the centre. These nursery spaces are designed to enable the inclusion of children with additional needs. The Council’s early years team will be actively involved in promoting and supporting the inclusion of children with additional needs.

We live in a rural area. How is children’s centre provision developed in such areas?

We recognise that the urban ‘pram pushable’ model will not work for dispersed rural populations. We have developed the use of existing community premises (including schools) in some of the larger villages; developing joined up ways of working with organisations who already serve the rural community, e.g. health visitors, churches and schools, to help us identify families with additional needs. We have implemented outreach family support services to those families who have additional needs.

Who are the key partnering agencies in children’s centre developments?

In Cheshire West and Chester we are working closely with our health service partners to identify how their services might be reshaped around children’s centre delivery. We work with our voluntary sector partners (some small local organisations, others national charities) to deliver family support. We work closely with further education colleges and Job Centre Plus to create opportunities for parents to access training and education leading to employment. We seek to engage with all providers of integrated early years provision within a children’s centre footprint to work with them to help all children to achieve their early years outcomes.