Problems accessing Wandsworth children's centres?

(13 Posts)
LocalEditorWandsworth Mon 04-Jan-16 14:51:20

We've been hearing a few reports of local parents having trouble gaining access to Wandsworth's children's centres recently.

One mum tells us she was turned away from Smallwood CC, which she had been using regularly, on the basis that her house is actually closer to a different Wandsworth CC.

Another was turned away from the Triangle CC in Balham. In this case the reason given was that although the family live just 2 minutes walk away from the centre, their house is in the part of Balham that falls under the control of Lambeth (Balham is split between two boroughs) and the centre is apparently now only for the use of Wandsworth residents. Again, she had visited regularly in the past with no problem.

The Council recently held a public consultation about the future of the borough's children's centres with a view to reducing costs. Amongst other things, this found that

"the number of children who are accessing the majority of Centres is much higher than the numbers who are resident in their catchment areas. This suggests that Centres are „importing‟ families from other localities or in some cases other boroughs."

So perhaps this is why the rules seem to have been changed recently?

We have asked the Council to confirm whether there are new rules for attending children's centre and what those are and will keep you posted.

CaptainNjork Mon 04-Jan-16 15:01:56

Lambeth Balham dwellers can still join the Wandsworth Council run library or leisure centre and enrol in Wandsworth schools so I don't see why there should be a different rule for childrens centres.

localparent5 Mon 04-Jan-16 16:29:19

YES! I was allowed in but warned that from January I wouldn't be welcome and would have to use the children's centre nearest my house.

Ridiculous.

I have two children's centres near me and the difference in distance is only a few minutes walk. Annoyingly, the session times at the closer one don't work with my baby's nap schedule so no more play for us.

CaptainNjork Mon 04-Jan-16 17:56:04

I'm not sure that Wands Council are actually allowed to do this.

They are under a statutory duty to make sure there are 'sufficient children's centres to meet local need'. The guidance says that when thinking about local need they should:

"take account of families crossing local authority borders to use children’s centres in their authority. Families and carers are free to access early childhood services where it suits them best"

Which is what I shall tell them if they try to stop me going into one of their centres after I've spent a bloody age rangling baby into winter clothes and packing up all the kit we have to carry with us these days.

LocalEditorWandsworth Tue 05-Jan-16 13:34:26

We've had a response from the Council now. Here's their statement:

"As local parents will no doubt be aware, there is a huge demand for the services offered at these centres and this demand is growing year on year. Space at some centres is limited and the sessions and services provided do need to be of high quality to have the most impact and regrettably this does mean that at certain times we must give priority to Wandsworth residents.

Obviously the services are aimed primarily at people who live in Wandsworth - who do of course pay towards the cost of providing these services – rather than those living in other boroughs, who should be receiving the same levels of service from their local town halls.

It must also be pointed out that children's centres are subject to Ofsted scrutiny and inspection and they are judged on how well they engage with and support local people living in a closely defined 'reach' area, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Ofsted places a very strong emphasis on ensuring that the majority of people using centres are from the 'reach area'.

It is certainly not our current policy to exclude parents and families who live in other parts of London, but there certainly is a requirement to make sure that we properly meet the demands from families within our reach areas and view their needs as our priority before we are able to extend this support to non-residents."

Not entirely clear to us... but they seem to be saying that non-Wandsworth residents can visit their centres but where session numbers are limited priority will be given to those in the borough. Possibly?

tootsamaze Tue 05-Jan-16 17:03:46

localparent I was told the same thing (by Hillbrook). I live really nearby and within Wands borough but apparently my address isn't within it's target area.

I suppose that is what the Council is talking about when they say 'reach area' but unless they clarify what the reach areas are how are we supposed to know where we can or can't go?!?

Can you ask them to confirm what the 'reach areas' are for the various centres MN? flowers

balhambint Tue 05-Jan-16 17:16:32

Yep - live in Hyde Farm, so a stone's through from the common, but was turned away from the Triangle too.

My neighbour still goes though and just gives a fake Wandsworth postcode.

What annoys me is that the Council changed the rules without telling us and even when they are asked about it they are deliberately cagey unclear.

LocalEditorWandsworth Tue 05-Jan-16 17:33:14

In response to a tweet we received from someone refused entry to a centre on the basis that they 'live on the wrong side of the road', the Council's 'cabinet member for Children's Services' (Cllr Kathy Tracey) told us:

"Sometimes the work at our children centres is targeted to those most in need of a service within a universal facility. It may just be that they are having a busy session and need to control the numbers."

P.S - follow us on twitter @MNWandsworth to see the full discussion.

tootsamaze Tue 05-Jan-16 17:52:19

I understand the need to prioritise families most in need but this used to be done by making some sessions pre-book or invitation only (. I was only trying to go to the normal drop-in toddlers play sessions.

And how can they tell how 'in need' I am just by my postcode anyway?

Surely if there is a max number for sessions they should include this info on their timetables but there is no mention of it on the one I picked up this week.

Although it does say that a max of 3 nannies are allowed per session - which seems to be another new thing?

Rachaelstokes Tue 05-Jan-16 19:59:57

Hi there,

I have a seven month old baby daughter and am also a local councillor (Earlsfield). I contacted the council about this issue just before Christmas as a couple of Earlsfield residents contacted me about this issue having been turned away from Smallwood. Friends from my local NCT group were also recently turned away from Hillbrook.

Here is the response I received (dated 15 December):

"Dear Councillor Stokes,

Thank you for your enquiry about Hillbrook and Smallwood Children’s Centres. As you may know Children’s Centres are subject to OFSTED inspection and are judged on how well they engage people in a defined ‘reach’ area, especially those who are disadvantaged. An emphasis on ensuring that the majority of people using centres are from the ‘reach area’ is something centres are required to focus on. Demand on Centres is very great and space at some centres is limited and as sessions need to be of high quality to have the most impact this may mean limiting numbers from time to time, particularly when more targeted work is underway.

However It does appear that some of the centres are struggling to manage the necessary balance between hitting targets, as required by the inspection framework, and providing universally accessible services as required by the Children Act. It is not currently the policy of the Local Authority, as commissioner of the Children’s Centre service, that a focus on meeting target groups should exclude all others

I have asked my Locality Co-ordinators to work with the centres to ensure that centres explicitly identify and timetable which parts of their service is universally available and which are rightly targeted so that parents can make informed choices and do not have the inconvenience of wasted journeys. I will write again to advise you once this has been done."

And my reply:

"Many thanks for your prompt follow up and response. Yes I completely understand the need to target certain groups. However, as you set out, this should not be to the exclusion of others. Whilst some mums / children may not be categorised as disadvantaged, the children's centres still provide a vital service. The need for universal provision reflects the fact that some of the needs of parents and children are by their very nature universal. The women who contacted me were all upset by being made to feel so unwelcome. I would be grateful if you could keep me informed of the outcome of your follow up actions."

I am happy to post any further updates I receive in this discussion thread. In the meantime, if anyone has any further problems to report please reply to this message or email me at rstokes@wandsworth.gov.uk

LocalEditorWandsworth Tue 05-Jan-16 20:22:18

We've had another reply from Balham/Tooting councillor, Fleur Anderson, who was also looking into this and says:

"I've complained and this policy has been stopped - you are officially welcome again"

So not really clear what was going on as this seems to suggest there was a new 'policy' which the Council deny but it looks like everything should now be back to normal. Hurrah smile

Let us know if you have any more problems though.

LondonFlower Wed 06-Jan-16 14:43:09

Thanks to everyone who alerted us to this, and it was awful that some mums were being turned away from their local centre. As reported above we did ask Council officers and there does seem to have been a difference of interpretation of who is welcome - but I was assured that this has now been stopped and all local parents are welcome (spaces allowing). However we are concerned about constant chipping away of local services for parents with pre-school children and that this may be a first sign of a new policy coming our way. So, we'll keep up discussion with the Council about this.

Do let us know if you experience any further problems - we're both local mums,

Thanks

Cllr Fleur Anderson - fanderson@wandsworth.gov.uk
Cllr Dr Rosena Allin-Khan - rallinkhan@wandsworth.gov.uk

LocalEditorWandsworth Thu 07-Jan-16 19:52:03

Curiouser and curiouser!

Staff at the Triangle Children's Centre on Tooting Common were apparently handing out these letters today (the Triangle is run as part of a bigger centre called Faylands). The image might be tiny so here is what it says:

"Dear Parents and Childminders

After a period of review all the Children's Centres in Tooting are introducing new policy for our Play and Learn and Bookstart sessions.

This policy relates to childminders and nannies and also for non-Wandsworth Borough families who access Children's Centres based in and around the Tooting area.

(1) Childminders and nannies can attend the sessions if:

- They are minding a child who is within the Fayland reach area. This reach area is determined by a postcode and a childminder or nanny will need to check the child's postcode with a member of staff before signing in at the session.

- Any individual childminder or nanny can attend once a week.

- There will be no more than 2 childminders or nannies with a maximum of 4 children at each session. Spaces for these children will be allocated on a first come first served basis.

There are two childminder groups in the local area ....

(2) Families who DO NOT live in Wandsworth can no longer attend Fayland Children's Centre play sessions. This is because we have to give priority to families living in our immediate area and for families living in the London Borough of Wandsworth.

The above practice will begin from 12th January 2016 and be reviewed at the end of February 2016."

Very strange indeed given that just two days ago the Council told us there was no such policy! Although re-reading their statement, they said it was not 'current policy' and of course this letter says the policy only begins next week hmm.

Also we wonder what the rationale for the sudden restriction on how often nannies can attend is?

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