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Working together under one roof

Working in partnership is now the official mantra for education, social care, health, criminal justice, housing and recreation. But what is happening to improve integration of children's services? Raymond Ross finds out

As part of its move towards integration, the Aberdeen Early Years and Childcare Partnership established its own children's services centre in January last year.

The centre, based at the Hilton campus of Aberdeen University's faculty of education, provides training facilities, meeting rooms and office space for public, private and voluntary sector partners such the Aberlour Childcare Trust, the Association of Quality Nurseries in Scotland, Children's Services Training and Assesssment Centre, Community Link Childcare, the Scottish Childminding Association and the Scottish Pre-School Play Association.

"It's a partnership model which allows all the agencies to see the bigger picture," says Mary Crear, project manager for the centre.

"All childcare practitioners in Aberdeen know this is the base to contact, the resource centre for all childcare workers.

"Sharing ideas and discussing issues of concern and joint working is the way forward," she says.

The centre offers training opportunities from practical workshops to nationally-recognised qualifications and is approved by the SQA to deliver courses at SVQ levels 2 and 3 in early years education and playwork. The range of programmes includes child protection, elementary food hygiene, first aid training, after-school care planning and evaluation, working with children with additional support needs and multicultural activities.

"The main benefit is access to training facilities," says Susan Bain, development officer for the Association of Quality Nurseries in Scotland, which represents private sector nurseries. "It was problematic before the centre was set up because there were few large spaces easily available.

Now, over 200 of our members can receive training from this centre every year."

As the association's only employee, Ms Bain was isolated, working from home until the centre was established. "A centre like this now places me at the hub of all that's happening in Aberdeen childcare and it's done a lot for the private sector, giving recognition to its central role as by far the largest provider of childcare places in Aberdeen," she says.

"With all the agencies based together, I certainly have a better understanding of what others do, not just through formal meetings but through informal chats and general sharing of information."

Jenna Robertson, development officer for Community Link Childcare, says the main benefits of having the centre are networking and on-site training. The organisation specialises in running out-of-school care, after-school clubs and holiday play schemes aimed at helping working parents. It also takes social work referrals during school holidays. It has 70 staff, 20 of whom can access training at the centre every year as well as help and advice from other staff.

"We've been able to expand from three to nine clubs since the centre opened," says Mrs Robertson. "Before that, we just didn't have the office space to administer as many, to interview staff and so on."

Working together under the same roof has also meant that agencies which may overlap, such as the Scottish Pre-School Play Association, the Scottish Childminding Association and the Association of Quality Nurseries in Scotland, can combine forces, for example to produce a joint careers pack for school-leavers' jobs in the childcare sector.

"We all work for different agencies but see ourselves as a team because we are all here to support the development of childcare services and the quality of those services, whether that be in resourcing, meeting Care Commission standards or in staff training," says Ms Crear.

"One area we are working on as a team is to attract more men to the early years childcare sector, where the majority of practitioners are female."

George Agnew, the learning development co-ordinator with the Aberlour Childcare Trust, which partly funds the centre, believes the integrated model is a success, but a success which needs to be built on.

"As a resource and amenity I think it needs to gain itself a higher profile and increase the recognition of the work it does," he says.

Ms Crear agrees. "We are only beginning to explore how things work. This is just the first step."

For more on the Aberdeen children's services centre, tel 01224 283863

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