Childrens Centres

Published: February, 2014

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Children’s centres in urgent need of a new mission to provide early help for families, says UK ’s largest children’s charity

A new report from the UK ’s largest children’s charity Barnardo’s exposes the lack of a unifying mission for children’s centres in England , and calls for them to be clearly focussed on early help for parents of young children.

The report, ‘What are children’s centres for?’ argues that the lack of consistency and quality of children’s centres across the country makes true effective service provision and accountability impossible.

Barnardo’s Assistant Director of Policy and author of the report Jonathan Rallings warns:

“Currently, children’s centres in England vary enormously and many do not have a clear focus or direction. This can impact hugely on their ability to provide a truly valuable service to families.

“The development a child undergoes during the first five years of life is faster and more dynamic than at any other time in his or her life. We need to standardise the quality of service provided by children’s centres to both children and their parents at this critical time in their lives.

“We have already seen the funding for more than thirty per cent of children’s centres decline under the present government. There must now be an urgent reframing of their purpose or we risk the vital service that children’s centres provide being eroded away to the detriment of the most vulnerable families and children.”

Barnardo’s paper on the issue makes the following recommendations:

  • Better understanding: children’s centres should be repositioned as providing an ‘early help service’ to parents to help them understand how they can help their family, in the same way that they understand well the role of hospitals and schools in their child’s life
  • Better integration: the current structure and commissioning of children’s centres undergoes radical examination, in order to better allow them to become supported by a variety of services including health, education and local authorities
  • More tailoring: a more nuanced approach is taken to ensure that service provision in children’s centres recognises and provides for the very different stages of development a child goes through in the years between being a new born to age five.
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