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Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Majority of children's centre managers warn of cuts to front-line services

Written by The Press Association

Cuts to children's centre budgets could have a damaging impact on hundreds of thousands of families across the country, a charity has warned.

A poll by 4Children found almost two thirds (64%) of children's centre managers who responded have had their budgets cut in this financial year - representing 2,300 children's centre sites in England.

Well over half (57%) of these said it will mean reductions to front-line services.

Many also said it will mean they are unable to reach as many families as before.

Children's centres - previously known as Sure Start centres - were introduced under Tony Blair to help give children a good start in life through early health and education support.

Labour has said the Conservatives' spending plans will see an average of 250 Sure Start centres a year being shut down over the next four years.

The 4Children 2015 Children's Centre Census found that around 130 children's centre sites are currently at risk of closure or of their building ceasing to operate as a children's centre.

Many will also have to reduce the number of locations from which they currently provide services, meaning families will have to travel further to find help that was previously available on their doorstep, the charity warned.

Some are also reducing their opening hours or starting to charge for services that otherwise would have been free.

It is the fourth year running that a majority has reported budget cuts, indicating sustained funding pressures, it said.

The census was conducted alongside a parents' survey which found that more than 90% of parents who use children's centres say it has had a positive impact on their child, while 79% said that if they were unable to use their local centre it would make life harder for them and their family.

Imelda Redmond (pictured), chief executive at 4Children, said: "Over a million families across the country use children's centres. No other part of our national infrastructure offers the same opportunity to identify and address problems early; bring communities together and make public services work better for families.

"Year-on-year reductions to children's centre budgets are a real cause for concern. Our census shows that cuts are directly impacting on children's centres' abilities to reach out and support families.

"It is time to build on the excellent work they already do by bringing together family services such as health, employment support and relationship support to give families the strong foundations they need to thrive."

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: "It's great to see more than one million families are benefiting from children's centres. It's vital that every child, regardless of their background, is given the opportunity to realise their potential, which is why we've invested more than £2 billion in early intervention services.

"Councils have a duty to ensure there are sufficient children's centres to meet local need, and are best placed to decide on provision in their communities. Later this autumn we will launch a consultation offering parents, carers, councils and key stakeholders, such as 4Children, the chance to influence and drive what we expect from children's centres and where we see them having the greatest impact."

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