All 85 of the county’s children’s centres are managed by the charities 4Children, Barnardos and Spurgeons.
Last January, the council awarded contracts to the three voluntary sector organisations to manage its children’s centres.
Previously, the county’s children’s centres were run as they had initially been set up, by 13 voluntary and statutory organisations.
Under the council’s proposals, ‘main site’ children’s centres would be open to the public for drop in visits and service delivery for a minimum of 50 hours a week.
‘Delivery sites’ would be open for a ‘dedicated’ number of hours, in some cases as little as five hours a week, and provide a number of services.
Essex county councillor Dick Madden, cabinet member with responsibility for families and children, said, ‘Children’s centre services are an important part of delivering early support for children, young people and their families in Essex. However the financial challenges we face mean that all services are having to be reviewed.
‘We have actively worked with our children’s centre providers to make sure that the impact this has on services is kept to a minimum. I truly believe that this new flexible way of working, which focuses on services rather than sites, will mean that the children’s centre staff will be able to provide the services that families need and want.’
Tracy Maxwell-Jones, director of children and family services at 4Children, said, ‘The model chosen by Essex as main sites and delivery sites bears a close resemblance to models which 4Children have pioneered as one of the major providers of children’s centres in the country. We believe it offers the opportunity to maximise resources, provide flexible utilisation of the workforce whilst maintaining and enhancing front-line services.’
Speaking to the BBC yesterday morning, Alison Garnham, chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, said that the ‘proposals were bad news’ and that the ‘children’s centres are really highly valued by parents.’
The council’s consultation closes on 5 December 2013.