Shafts of sunlight in Children’s Services

19 Dec 2023
Prue Bray

From the Chamber – Shafts of sunlight in Children’s Services

It has been a particularly gloomy time to be involved in Children’s Services lately.  More an more councils are effectively going bust, and are citing the increasing cost of running Children’s Services as one of the main factors for having to declare they cannot carry on.   


Wokingham Borough is certainly not immune from the twin pressures of high inflation and increasing demand, but we have been putting plans in place to try to make sure we can continue to provide services for children in a way that is sustainable in the long term.  We have been taking a strategic view, looking at how to prevent children’s needs escalating.  It seems obvious, but the earlier you intervene when something goes wrong for a child, the greater your chances of giving effective help, and the less you will need to spend on providing it.  Juggling having to spend on immediate need and managing to preserve some funding for prevention and early help is quite a stressful task, however.


So it was great that in the last couple of weeks there have been not one but two shafts of sunlight to pierce the gloom locally.  


The first was in housing for young people who have been in care.  Helping care leavers find a suitable place to live and supporting them in navigating the unfamiliar territory of keeping a tenancy and staying afloat financially is really important for their life chances.  We have been working hard to ensure we do our best for these young people, and I am delighted that we have managed over the past 18 months to dramatically reduce the need to place them in emergency or temporary accommodation.  This is a real triumph.  It gives the young people more stability and means that we have saved money and been able to make a scarce resource – temporary and emergency accommodation – go further.  A win for everyone.


The second was the official opening of our new Early Years SEND provision.  Under the wing of Addington School, we have opened a new unit for young children around the age of 5 who have been identified as having Special Educational Needs or Disabilities.   The number of these children has been increasing dramatically, not just in the Borough but also nationally.  It is thought that the impact of the pandemic affected young children, and we have a growing number who are nearing or at school age but missed out on socialisation and developmental opportunities when they were babies and toddlers.  We really hope that this new provision will be able to provide them with the help they need to progress well.


Even better, the unit is in the old Farley Hill Primary School.  This building has essentially lain empty since the school relocated a couple of miles down the road a few years ago.  It has now been brilliantly converted to become a new Early Years hub that currently has places for 16 children.  Phase 2 of the conversion is under way and the unit is expected to be able to take more children in September 2024.  It is great to have brought a neglected asset back into use.  The building has been completely transformed.


So, even among the gloom, and despite the budget pressures, there are good things to point to!  I am really grateful to all the council staff and the staff at Addington for everything they have done to make this new Early Years hub happen.  Seeing the children clearly so happy and thriving in a fantastic new setting was a terrific experience and brightened the day for all of us who were at the official opening.


Cllr Prue Bray, Deputy Leader & Executive Member for Children's Services