When it comes to forgetting about children’s centres the Government’s time is up

Posted by Dan Breslin / Monday 23 October 2017 / Early intervention Children's centres

If you were asked to name who makes the decisions that affect public services who would you pick? The Prime Minister? The Chancellor? Your local MP?

Well how about your local councillor?

They might not control how much money they have to spend on services but they are the ones who have to make many difficult decisions about why resources go.

From adult social care to social housing to the local fire services. They are also responsible for services that help and protect the most disadvantage and vulnerable children in society.

Given how important they are we wanted to know what they were seeing on the ground. So we asked them. We got some worrying answers.

What did we find?  

Almost three quarters of councillors (73 per cent) think that reduced central government funding has made it harder for their council to provide the support to vulnerable children they are required to by law.

Perhaps this isn't too much of surprise. The Local Government Association has estimated there will be a £2bn funding gap by 2020. Nearly three-quarters (82 per cent) of councillors told us long-term funding for children’s services is a major concern. 

But when you really get into it you can see where these cuts are starting to hit. You can see that councillors are being forced to cut services they can see make a difference to children. Services that avoid problems getting out of hand.

Councillor blog 1

Three in five (60 per cent) councillors believe that services that support children and parents in the early years are a high priority for their council. The kind of support children’s centres deliver every day. But since 2010 local council spending on these services has fallen by nearly half (48%). Centres are closing at a rate of 6 per month.

It is clear where councillors lay the blame.

Almost two thirds (65 per cent) believe that there is a lack of clear direction and funding from central government for children's centres and family hubs. They think this is leading to them being scaled back by local councils. This isn't just all Labour. More than one in three Conservative councillors (38 per cent) share this view.

Many people may wonder why it matters. What difference do children's centre make anyway?

Well, for some of the most disadvantaged children in England they can make all the difference in the world. A government evaluation found using centres helped to improve the home environment - a key factor in getting children ready for school – and improve the relationship between parents and their children.

Councillor blog 2

In many cases, these services support families who are already struggling; parents with mental health issues, children living poor in housing, families struggling with money or people whose own childhood experiences affect their parenting.

Centres are safe spaces for parents. We have heard stories from parents who have found centres a lifeline - getting the help they desperately needed to support their children, to leave an abusive partner, to address mental health problems. It doesn't bare thinking about how hard things might have been for these families without a local children's centre.

Despite all this the rate of closures has increased in recent years. Funding is set to fall further in the next year. Many of the centres which are left are being hollowed out delivering fewer services and programmes than before.

What needs to happen?

More than two years ago the Children's Minister announced that the Government would be consulting on the future of children's centres. It was a chance to provide a clear direction and show real leadership.

Sadly, two years later and the consultation has all but disappeared.

This isn’t good enough.

Central Government has taken their eye of the ball. By focussing on childcare they have forgotten about the role family support services play. This has to change.

Which is where we need your help. To do something about it we want to go straight to the top. Straight to Justine Greening, the Education Secretary. Her Department is responsible for early years services, including children’s centre. It is up to her to show the leadership and direction.

You can add your name to our petition here. You can let the Education Secretary know that the Government's time is up when it comes to forgetting about children’s centres and family support services.


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