4Children’s 2012 Census of Children’s Centres

19 July 2012

Exclusive research by the national family charity, 4Children, reveals that despite significant cuts within local authority budgets, and the removal of the dedicated Sure Start grant, a picture of resilience and creativity has been found among children’s centres.

Over 500 Sure Start Children’s Centres responded to a census conducted to gauge their financial viability, their service delivery, their role in delivering childcare, their staffing and their views of the future demands and challenges.

Despite a difficult environment and fears over mass closure, local authorities have seen children’s centres as a positive investment and sought to retain them where possible. This backing, and a strong belief in their value by the communities they serve, have led to centres standing on firm ground in the short term.

However, despite the continuing success of Sure Start Children’s Centres, 4Children must warn that without national and local governments’ sustained monitoring and solid funding arrangements, centres’ impressive fortitude in the face of budget cuts may not be sustainable in the long run.

  • Whilst 60% of Sure Start Centres stated they were coping with significant budget reductions, 15% of centres  indicated that they are currently struggling whilst a massive 50% of centres said that their finances were less sustainable;
  • Although many centres are providing more services, they are becoming more reliant on charging with over 20% of centres charging for services that were formerly free;
  • Sure Start Children’s Centres continue to be a pivotal service for those that need them most, but this has sometimes come at the expense of universal services; services which are often crucial for bridging class barriers and cultures within the community;
  • 55% no longer provide any onsite childcare. This appears to have had a knock-on effect in some centres as 50% of respondents claimed that they were being oversubscribed. 
  • In 2011 the duty upon centres in deprived areas to provide childcare was removed. Our census shows that they have seen some reduction in full-time childcare places. We are concerned about the long term impact of the removal of the duty and the potential for this supply to reduce further. Provision of good quality affordable childcare needs to increase and children’s centres should be part of this. We are also concerned that whilst some children’s centres have continued to provide childcare they are providing fewer places – of the 43% of centres providing full time childcare places 30% provide less than 50 places.

With increasing pressure to find new places for two-year-olds, the potential of children's centres to meet that need should be maximized.

These concerns are further compounded by the fact that:

  • Many centres are having to cut qualified staff over the next few years – with nearly 20% of centres having to reduce the numbers of qualified teachers, and a further 20% saying that they will have to reduce childcare staff;
  • Centres are increasingly relying upon volunteers to provide core services with 60% increasing volunteer numbers and 50% reporting that volunteers’ hours have increased. Whilst we welcome the active involvement of volunteers, their presence within children’s centres must not serve to replace the skills of trained professionals.

As a result of the census, 4children are recommending that:

  • Children’s centres must become central to a joined-up approach to early intervention.         
  • Children’s centres resist the urge to charge for services.         
  • Children’s centres continue to supply universal services where possible.
  • Children’s centres continue to support parents to take up employment by providing childcare where possible and that they are supported to become a key provider for the extension of the offer of 15 free hours of childcare for vulnerable two-year-olds.
  • Children’s centres invest in up-skilling their workforce and resist relying too heavily on volunteers.

Dowlload the 4Children Children’s Centre Census.

Commenting upon the Sure Start Children’s Centres Census 2012, Anne Longfield OBE, Chief Executive of 4Children said:

The importance and value of Sure Start Children’s Centres is clear. Children’s centres across the country have demonstrated resilience and creativity, and enjoy overwhelming support from professionals working within the sector, parents and communities.

Now must be a time for development, not decline. There is huge potential for Children’s Centres to play their full part in delivering early help and intervention. The task is enormous and it is essential that local and central government continue to provide sustained funding.

Gains made must not be lost. Children’s centres must now be put at the heart of delivering early help and intervention. It is for local authorities, professionals and communities to come together and nurture the potential of Sure Start Children’s Centres across the 0-19 age range.

The framework being proposed by Professor Sir Michael Marmot, at University College London, supplies tools to highlight current good practice, strengthen the already huge potential of children’s centres and build in vital monitoring which serves the public and those designing future services.

Children’s centres must be seen as a crucial part of a new approach in targeting services towards the vital early years in a child’s life, years that form the foundation for future health, wellbeing and social mobility.”

Notes to Editors

Sure Start Children’s Centres Census 2012

Between Wednesday 14 March and Friday 20 April 2012, 4Children undertook an online survey with Children’s Centre staff working in centres across England. Surveys were sent to all Children’s Centres listed on the Directgov website’s database of Sure Start Children’s Centre database, as of March 2012 .

Responses were received from 578 centres in 133 local authorities, representing a response rate of 16% nationally. A review of existing literature relating to current trends in Sure Start Children’s Centres was undertaken to supplement the primary research.

The 4Children Children’s Centre Census can be viewed here


4Children is the national charity all about children and families. We have spearheaded a joined-up, integrated approach to children’s services and work with a wide range of partners around the country to ensure children and families have access to the services and support they need in their communities. We run Sure Start Children’s Centres as well as family and youth services across Britain.

We develop, influence and shape national policy on all aspects of the lives of children, young people and families. As the Government’s strategic partner for early years and childcare we have a crucial role in co-producing policy with the Department of Education and representing the sector’s views and experiences. Our national campaigns, like Give Me Strength, change policy and practice and put the needs of children and families on the political and policy agenda.

For more information visit www.4children.org.uk

For further information please contact Kieran Lowe (020 7522 6919/ 079823321639 / kieran.lowe@4children.org.uk) or William Staynes (07917542464/ william.staynes@4children.org.uk)


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