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Union row over Cornwall's proposed child services integration

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Cornwall Council’s cabinet is set to agree a radical integration of children’s services despite claims from the Unite union that residents could be charged for services which are currently delivered for free.

The proposal is to create an integrated children’s services directorate (ICSD) “under a distinct identity with enhanced governance arrangements” which will be comprised of education, early years, community children’s health, early help and social care, “as the foundation of integration to further improve the effectiveness of those services”.

A cabinet report published ahead of tomorrow’s meeting said the new directorate would “provide preventative and universal services to all children and young people.

“This is in line with what children, young people and their families have said they want - a less fragmented service across education, community health and social care services.”

The report said the development of integrated approaches and services “at a universal and early help level in Cornwall has been piecemeal”, and the council and its partners lacked “a single management system for delivering children’s services”.

Cornwall’s children’s social care services was rated good by Ofsted in 2016. As a result of this rating the council won £1.9m Department for Education funding from its innovation programme to explore alternative delivery models.

Having settled on the ICSD proposal, the report said: “Further consideration will be given to establishing a headquarters for the ICSD within the council’s estate in order to reinforce the bringing together of education, health and social care as equal partners, the exploration of further opportunities for integration, named officers from support services for the ICSD, and the exploration of the costs and benefits of specialised vehicles to provide services to Cornwall’s most rural communities.”

Unite said its concerns centred on the degree to which the new directorate would be independent of the council and allowed to trade.

It noted a different council report had said Cornwall could “introduce means tested charging for a range of family support services”.

Unite regional officer Deborah Hopkins said: “We are at a crossroads in Cornwall as to how we look after and care for babies and young children. The prospect of means testing for such children’s services, including visits by health visitors, will be an anathema to the vast majority of Cornish people.”

Unite said, under the plan, about 235 health visitors and school nurses would transfer into the council’s integrated children’s service next April.

“Who runs this service is the crux of tomorrow’s meeting – and Unite is urging councillors to keep the services in-house”, a statement from the union said.

Sally Hawken (Ind), Cornwall’s portfolio holder for children and wellbeing, told LGC that Unite’s concerns were unfounded.

She agreed the reference to means testing existed in a council document, but said Cornwall had no plans to charge for children’s services and that even were it at some future date to feel forced to do so this would not be applied to any statutory service including health visiting.

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