Breaking Barriers: overcoming the barriers disadvantaged families face to engaging with children’s centres

Laura Rodrigues is Policy Officer for The Children’s Society

The creation of Sure Start children’s centres to provide a local hub of integrated services and support for families with young children, was one of the most inventive and far-reaching government initiatives of the last twenty years. At The Children’s Society  we currently provide over 40 children’s centres across England.

Millions of families and children across the country have benefitted from the holistic and wide ranging support offered by their local centres, from stay and play classes and high quality childcare, through to debt and benefit advice; parenting programmes and access to employment and training opportunities.

However, there are still too many disadvantaged families not accessing the services available at children’s centres and to make matters worse these centres are facing significant funding cuts.

The Children’s Society’s new Breaking Barriers report provides a detailed breakdown of these cuts and the barriers disadvantaged families face to engaging with these vital services.

The report was based on a survey of parents with children aged 0-5, living in deprived communities who were not using their local children’s centres, as well as interviews with parents and practitioners.

We found that many disadvantaged families have little knowledge of centres, even if they would be interested in the services they offer. Nearly four out of ten parents we surveyed had not heard of them and three quarters of the parents were unaware of the services on offer at the centres.

Alongside this, our children’s centre staff told us that they find it difficult to promote the work they do and engage disadvantaged families, as they cannot identify them. This is mainly due to children’s centres lacking access to the available local data on disadvantaged families, for example live birth data.

We recommended that local services particularly healthcare should have systems in place for the appropriate sharing of local data with children’s centres in the area.

Another recommendation we put forward is for birth registrations to take place at children’s centres to enable all new parents to find their local centre and understand what services they provide.

However, we have further concern that with significant cuts, children’s centres will find it even more difficult to provide outreach to and support for disadvantaged families.

As Breaking Barriers outlines, the Early Intervention Grant will be halved between 2010 and 2015, from £3 billion a year to £1.5 billion (in 2013 prices). Each local authority receives an Early Intervention Grant from central government to provide the vital funding for children’s centres as well as for a wide range of other preventative services like family intervention projects. We are concerned that with the cumulative cuts to the Grant, local authorities are left with no option but to reduce the funding for children’s centres. We have mapped the cuts across all English local authorities.

We are calling for the government to make no further cuts in funding for key early intervention services and to ring-fence the funding for children’s centres to ensure these essential services are protected. In these austere times, it is increasingly important that disadvantaged children and families get the support they need in their earliest years.

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