Are threats to children’s centres damaging children’s life chances?

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Children’s centres are not just services. They are the conduit for how, as a society, we protect children, support families and enable them to grow.

National budget decision-making is having a significant impact on local funding for early intervention services such as children’s centres. There is weekly, if not daily, media coverage of cuts to children centre budgets.

A prime example is Oxfordshire, David Cameron’s own constituency, where more than 80 per cent of children’s centres - 37 out of 44 - are potentially at risk as the Council faces considerable budget cuts.

Action for Children runs over 200 children’s centres across England. The Red Book 2013 sets out what our children’s centre leaders are experiencing at a local level:

  • 83% reported cuts in their budget
  • 68% do not have contracts that will see out the spending review period; the next two years or more
  • 75% said families need more help now as they are facing greater problems than last year

Based on our experience of running children’s centres, we know that high-quality, evidence-based provision and outreach work are central to delivering children’s centres that improve children’s lives.

Strong leadership and qualified professionals need to maintain a focus on effectiveness and efficiency. There needs to be effective local data sharing, especially around births and the diverse voice of children and families must be at the heart of service delivery.

How can we keep children centres alive?

The lives of families across the country are getting worse as their problems become more severe. To ensure vital support delivered through children’s centres continues, Action for Children is calling for:

  • The introduction of five-year spending plans that set out the funding to be made available to children’s services in line with the fixed-term Parliament.
  • Government to place a duty on NHS Trusts to make sure that all children’s centres are given local birth data.
  • Government to ensure that free early education for two year-olds is fully integrated with children’s centres acting as the access point for the offer.

There is a great deal of highly effective and innovative work taking place through children’s centres. Without a renewed belief in their potential to deliver help early, we lose the opportunity to tackle the growth in inequalities.

The children and young people that Action for Children helps describe society as an ‘exclusive club’ that they do not belong to. We need children’s centres to engage with children and families, especially those that are vulnerable, to create a society that enables them to fulfil their potential.

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