MPs call for pooled budgets in early years support

By Joe Lepper, Tuesday 16 July 2013

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Support for families would be dramatically improved if local children’s centres and health budgets were combined, according to a group of MPs.

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Health visiting would be based at children's centres under the MPs' blueprint for combined early years support services. Image: Mark Pinder

A report by the all-party parliamentary group on Sure Start is calling for midwifery, health visiting and Sure Start budgets to be pooled. The move would ensure a greater focus on early intervention to highlight health and developmental problems swiftly and avoid duplication of services, say the MPs.

The report, called Best Practice for a Sure Start: The Way Forward for Children’s Centres, is the result of a year-long inquiry by the group.

It argues that separate funding streams also create a silo mentality and poor co-ordination of support. As well as pooling funds, the MPs want to see midwifery, health visiting and children’s centre services working in the same building to further strengthen their links.

They claim their funding recommendation would also mean children’s centres would focus more on supporting families at an earlier stage from pregnancy to their child’s second birthday.

The group’s chair Andrea Leadsom MP said: “Whitehall departments have got to stop operating in silos; they must see that through joined-up working they could save significant amounts of money. Pooling the budgets of midwives, health visitors and children’s centres would achieve just that. It would also have the important side effect of encouraging data sharing between practitioners, something which is key to supporting new families, but all too often is not happening.”

Other recommendations include registering births in children’s centres to help promote their services among families. The group says that no legislation is needed to make this happen.

The government is also being called on to ensure that early intervention is a focus of the next comprehensive spending review, with a specific commitment to moving between two to three per cent of spending from late interventions to early intervention work each year.

Anne Longfield, chief executive of the charity 4Children, which administers the all-party parliamentary group, says parents would benefit from the accessibility of having education, family support and health services under one roof.

She added: “However, where health services in particular are not located within children’s centres it is a waste of public money and puts centres at risk of closure. Local services need to be delivered in a joined-up way to make the best use of public resources and provide families with the help they need to flourish”

Childcare minister Elizabeth Truss said: “It is clear that a good start makes a crucial difference in securing good outcomes for children. Evidence from
across the world confirms this.

“I will study the recommendations in this report carefully, and think
about what more can be done across government to support those working
to provide services for children and families.”

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