Experts call for clarity on the future of children's centres

Laura McCardle
Thursday, November 28, 2013

Leading academics and charity chiefs are urging greater clarity on the core purpose of children's centres as they continue to face huge financial constraints and are forced to restructure.

Experts explore the future of children's centres in essays published by the National Children's Bureau.
Experts explore the future of children's centres in essays published by the National Children's Bureau.

In Partnerships for a Better Start: Perspectives on the role of children’s centres, a series of essays published by the National Children’s Bureau (NCB), five leading figures urge politicians to outline a clearer vision of priorities for children’s centres.

They explore issues such as the original purpose of children’s centres when they were first opened in 1997, their modern-day role, and whether they need to be restructured in order to better meet the needs of disadvantaged children and their families.

They also speculate on the future design of children’s centres. 

In her essay, Lisa Harker, head of the NSPCC's strategy unit, calls for services to be refocused on supporting children under two, while Dr Ingrid Wolfe, director of the Evelina London Child Health Project, uses her essay to discuss the possibility of integrating primary and secondary health services within children’s centres.

The other contributors are Professor Edward Melhuish, director for the study of children, families and social issues at Birkbeck, University of London; Action for Children chief executive Dame Clare Tickell; and Naomi Eisenstadt, research fellow at the University of Oxford.

The aim of the essays is to spark a national debate about the future of children’s centres and the support services they provide to more than one million families.

Commenting on the essays, Dr Helen Emery, NCB chief executive, said: “Children’s centres provide a wide range of important services under one roof – from childcare to health screening, and reaching out to marginalised children and their parents.

“With such a wide remit it is vital we have a clear understanding of their core purpose, especially with local authority budgets being squeezed and a hollowing out of services on offer.

“We need a better vision of priorities and precise objectives in mind, otherwise we risk providing ineffective support for children and allowing outcomes to drift.”

The NCB will consult practitioners, families and experts from across the sector on the value and purpose of children’s centres.

Andrea Leadsom, chair of the all-party parliamentary group for Sure Start, recently called for children’s centres to be put on a statutory footing with schools.

She also wants them to refocus on providing support services from conception to the age of two in order to protect them from local authority funding cuts.

Earlier this month, figures from Labour suggested there are 578 fewer children’s centres now (3,053) compared to when the coalition was formed in April 2010 (3,631).

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