Children's hubs let the good times roll

Children's hubs let the good times roll

Karen Walker hangs out with Jayden-Paul Powley and Jade Wells at North Abingdon Children’s centre

Janet Law, above centre, reads to children at Slade and Headington Children’s Centre

First published in News Witney Gazette: Photograph of the Author by

THREE of Oxfordshire’s children’s centres have received their first ever Ofsted report, and the inspectors have hailed them a success.

Between them, Slade and Headington, Marston Northway and North Abingdon Children’s Centre see hundreds of families and young children each year.

The reports, which were all rated good overall, offer a snapshot of the communities the centres serve, as well as the work carried out under the children’s centre umbrella.

Activities have included volunteering schemes aimed at getting parents back into work, outreach with military families, and work with people suffering from postnatal depression or domestic abuse.

Slade and Headington Children’s Centre only moved into its new, purpose-built premises in Titup Hall Drive in June 2011, previously operating out of a temporary hut.

A quarter of families in the centre’s reach are on benefits, while 23 per cent of children in the area live in workless households.

And half are from non-white British backgrounds, with 20 different languages spoken by centre users. People from 66 different countries attend.

Ofsted inspector Christine Field said: “Since moving to its new building, the centre has refocused its efforts on providing a range of services that better meet the needs of families whose circumstances make them more vulnerable.”

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Head of the children’s centre Janet Law said staff were “thrilled to bits” by the glowing report.

She said there were a number of groups which targeted different minority groups, including opportunities to chat and become familiar with the language.

And a volunteer project has been established which encourages unemployed parents to get back into work through volunteering.

Mum-of-two Simone James visits the centre three times a week, taking part in courses, volunteering and going to play sessions with 22-month-old son Isaiah. She said: “It has been absolutely brilliant.”

Marston Northway Children’s Centre, in Copse Lane, sees 435 families through its doors every year. Although it serves pockets of deprivation, the percentage of workless households and those claiming benefits – around 15 per cent of the 770 children in the centre’s reach – is lower than elsewhere in the city.

But more than one in five families consist of lone parents, and the centre sees a fluctuating population linked to the Oxford hospitals and universities.

Ofsted inspector Barbara Atcheson said the centre offered “good care, guidance and personalised support” in an inclusive environment. The centre was also praised from raising the number of families registered in the centre from 58 per cent of those living in the area last year to 75 per cent in 2012.

Centre manager Shilpa Bhatt said: “We are reaching most of our community but as with the nature of the area we are in, with the hospitals and universities, the community changes so we have to be mindful of that and identify any gaps.

“We are constantly looking at new groups we want to reach.”

North Abingdon Children’s Centre, on the site of Dunmore Primary School in Northcourt Road, serves a relatively affluent area with high employment rates.

Very few families using the centre are on benefits, and lone parents and teenage mothers are in the minority. There are a number of military families, based at Dalton Barracks , and sessions are run at the base to make sure services are accessible to those families.

Inspector Marion Wallace praised staff working together and pointed to rapidly improving outcomes for target groups including fathers, disabled children, lone parents and teenage mothers.

Centre manager Karen Walker said the fact that there were a smaller number of vulnerable families in the area made it all the more important to reach them.

She said: “If you are poor and you live in a relatively affluent area, everything is compounded.

“Whereas in a poor community support services will be there in higher numbers and you are all in it together, pulling together, you get isolation if you are a poorer family in a wealthy area.”

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