Letters to Community Care 13 August 2009

issue of the week ➔Debate over statutory funding of voluntary sector services

I applaud Kim Bromley-Derry’s positive attitude towards the voluntary sector and the fact that he places importance on the work that this sector carries out in safeguarding children (http://www.communitycare.co.uk/111993).

As the senior co-ordinator of Home-Start Newham, a charity that supports vulnerable families (many of whom have children on the at-risk register), I recognise the importance of voluntary sector intervention.

However, I must point out that, because Home-Start Newham has just lost all its statutory funding from Newham children’s services, the department overseen by Bromley-Derry, I find his responses in your article confusing.

Bromley-Derry’s statement said “the voluntary sector’s role in safeguarding is often overlooked, and the government has not been forthcoming with a solution to this”, and “people forget that lots of work that goes into safeguarding, protection and intervention is by the voluntary sector. They are probably suffering from the recession more than local authorities.”

The decision by Newham’s extended services to stop funding Home-Start Newham has seriously jeopardised our future. We have been supporting families in Newham for 20 years for a variety of reasons, including poverty, isolation, disability, bereavement, relationship breakdown and physical and mental health.

As a voluntary service, we often engage with families that other services find difficult to reach because our support is confidential and non-judgemental. Home-Start Newham is part of a network of 330 Home-Starts in the UK. The first was set up 35 years ago. On a national level, Home-Start supports nearly 35,000 families and nearly 70,000 children. Many Home-Starts receive statutory funding from their local authority. We receive referrals from GPs, health visitors, midwives and social services. Some 25% of our families refer themselves to Home-Start.

Due to lack of funding from Newham children’s services we are now on the brink of closure. The implications of this are that the 170 families working with Home-Start in Newham will be left without support from a voluntary organisation that Bromley-Derry claims to value so much.

Shadna Miah

Senior co-ordinator, Home-Start Newham

Reply from Kim Bromley-Derry, head of children’s services at Newham

epresentatives of Home-Start have met me and my colleagues from the council to discuss their funding arrangements. Like many councils, Newham is shifting to a commissioning approach to procuring services, a major shift from a grant-aided approach.

For this to be most effective requires the local children’s trust to establish local priorities and then commission services that will have the greatest impact against defined outcomes, performance or value for money. Unfortunately, the service arrangements for Home-Start Newham were not felt to offer value for money in achieving these outcomes.

In a meeting I held with Shadna Miah, I explained the need for their organisation to reposition itself in order to respond to the commissioning of services aligned to the children’s trust’s emerging core business. This would enable it to attract funding.

Like all local authorities, Newham is operating with a limited budget and it is difficult to continue to support voluntary and statutory organisations that do not remodel to reflect the Children and Young People’s Plan. However, if Home-Start Newham is able to tender against a formal service specification for the support of families they would be considered alongside other bidders. We have developed a standard assessment tool to help us make the most of the £3m worth of business purchased each year from the voluntary sector by the council’s children and young people’s service.

Children’s services up and down the country are reconfiguring their commissioning arrangements to focus on impact against outcomes. Voluntary sector groups that reflect this new approach are more able to become commissioned providers for a children’s trust or local authority. This will allow the voluntary sector to deliver core services on a contracted and professional basis and put them on a sound financial footing.

The contribution of the voluntary sector is critical, but statutory funding from local authorities must relate more directly to outcomes, rather than inputs and process.

Kim Bromley Derry

President, Association of Directors of Children’s Services, and director of children’s services, Newham Council

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