Children’s Centre Census 2014: Call for all political parties to prioritise Sure Start Children’s Centres to prevent family crisis

13 October 2014

Increasing numbers of families are relying on vital services provided at Sure Start Children’s Centres as uncertainty over their future increases, according to the Children’s Centre Census 2014 published today by national children and families charity 4Children.

The census, which is the only national annual survey of Sure Start Children’s Centres, found more families than ever before, totalling more than one million, are receiving support from Children’s Centres. These include 335,000 of the most vulnerable families, who are on the brink of crisis.

Children’s Centres predict rapid and large-scale changes to the way services will be provided during the year ahead, including a shift away from universal services towards targeted support.

Children’s Centres are pioneering an integrated approach to supporting families by enabling a range of public services to work more closely together, crucially in health, social care and the Troubled Families Programme. 

However budget cuts mean Children’s Centres are trying to meet growing demand with reduced resources. 4Children is calling on all the main political parties to champion Children’s Centres to ensure the most vulnerable families will not lose the support they depend on.

The key findings from the Children’s Centre Census 2014 are:

• 1.05million families are using Children’s Centres, an increase from one million last year.

• Around 335,000 vulnerable families (67%) are receiving support from their local Children’s Centre and would be at increased risk of slipping into crisis if this is reduced.

• 53% of Children’s Centres say meeting the demand for services will be a challenge during the coming year.

4Children Chief Executive Anne Longfield OBE said:

Our census brings both good news and bad for disadvantaged families who rely on the support of Sure Start Children’s Centres.

The good is that Children’s Centres are getting better and better at reaching families and in providing the specialist parenting support they need including support for those experiencing mental health problems, domestic violence and alcohol dependency.

The bad news is that the budgets for these services are under unprecedented pressure over the next year with many Centres predicting a reduction in services as a result.

Reducing support for the most vulnerable families who are struggling to cope could leave many to fall into crisis with high social and economic costs for us all.

As we approach the general election we are calling on all political parties to protect and boost Sure Start Children’s Centres to maximise the potential of these brilliant resources for families experiencing tough times.”

The immediate future for some Children’s Centres is looking uncertain and others face rapid and widespread changes to the way they provide services.

The census shows:

• 57% of Children’s Centres expect their budget to reduce during the next year and another 22% do not know what will happen to their budget.  

• Three quarters (75%) of Children’s Centres say the balance between universal and targeted services is shifting. Of these 92% say there is a shift towards more targeted services.

• Children’s Centres are set to enable more partnership working. Currently 54% of targeted services are provided through partnerships. At almost a third of Children’s Centres (30%) partnerships are changing and, of these, 52% report greater engagement with a range of their partners including: social care (75%); health (71%) the local Troubled Families Programme (54%) and midwives (39%).

• More than half of Children’s Centres (52%) expect to see changes to their structure during the next year. Almost half (44%) of standalone centres predict they will become part of a cluster during the next year and a fifth of Children’s Centres (23%) which are already in a cluster expect the area their cluster covers to expand. Around 3% of Children’s Centres say they expect to close in a year’s time.

Anne Longfield said:

Children’s Centres are focusing their limited resources on targeted services which will help families who are struggling to cope with family life and, in many cases, facing multiple and complex problems. However some universal services must remain as they are vital to encourage disadvantaged families to come through the doors of their local Children’s Centre in the first place and ensure that all families in the area benefit.

It is essential to prevent further budget cuts because we know that investing in families who are beginning to struggle is a more cost effective way to use limited resources rather than waiting until problems have escalated into costly crisis.

The census highlights the increasing recognition of the impact of Children’s Centres and the benefits of early intervention and joined up support. By enabling public services to work more closely, Children’s Centres are an exemplar of just how effective partnership working can be between public services and there should be one in every community.”

4Children has set out ambitious new plans to take this a step further by extending Children’s Centres into Children and Family Community Hubs. This radical new approach would reshape public services to meet their needs of modern family life by overhauling social care and drawing together all the local support and resources for families in one place.

Anne Longfield said:

The census shows Children’s Centres are ideal locations to coordinate a range of support which families need. But compared to other public services like schools and GPs, Children’s Centres are still in their infancy and have far more potential. Expanding existing Children’s Centres into Children and Family Community Hubs which join up support, particularly social care, health and the Troubled Families programme, will revolutionise public services to meet the needs of modern family life.”


comments powered by Disqus