4Children launches framework for children’s centres

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The charity 4Children has launched the first evidence and measurement framework for children’s centres to demonstrate their positive impact.

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The evidence and measurement framework outlines how children's centres can measure outcomes

The framework, ‘Measuring what matters: a guide for children’s centre’s', is designed to support children’s centres to maximise their full potential by bringing together a range of measures to enable centres to successfully track children’s progress.

Written by the University College of London’s (UCL) Institute of Health Equity, it builds upon the 2012 report ‘An equal start’, by Professor Marmot, which identified 21 important outcomes children’s centres should be striving for, by providing ways to measure for the outcomes.

The framework aims to provide a unitary way for children’s centres to measure outcomes, after research carried out by the authors revealed that centres use different interventions and some have a tendency to measure outputs rather than outcomes.

Other difficulties children’s centres said they faced when attempting to measure impact included not receiving reliable and accurate data from services often as a consequence of data protection and confidentiality, difficulties in obtaining reliable data from parents, and practitioners not feeling comfortable working through questionnaires with families.

Within 'Measuring what matters', the authors set out key recommendations for practitioners, which include:

  • Building trusting relationships with families to improve the reliability and accuracy of parent self-report data.
  • Working with parents who require additional support where measurement tools rely on self-report data.
  • Children’s centres and partner agencies developing consent procedures with parents to ensure data can be shared appropriately and confidentially between services.

They also make a number of recommendations for Government and local authority decision makers.

It is hoped that children’s centre managers and commissioners within local authorities will work with health and well-being boards to embed the framework, enabling areas to measure the effectiveness of a multi-agency approach across the county.

This could also lead to the development of a new shorter and tested composite measure for children’s centres to use, said UCL's Institute of Health Equity.

Following the publication of the framework, the Early Intervention Foundation (EIF) is urging children’s centres to put forward their outcome data, and in the next few months will launch a call for evidence.

Anne Longfield, chief executive of 4Children, said, ‘I hope that these measures will serve as a useful tool to others in evaluating their own assessment frameworks and, more broadly, to help to improve understanding around the defined and central role that children’s centres play in supporting families across a wide range of areas.

‘Most people working in the sector know first hand the enormous contribution that children’s centres make towards supporting vulnerable children, improving social mobility and strengthening families. However, with the undercurrent of threats from local funding pressures, it is more important than ever that all children’s centres providers are able to demonstrate a clear evidence based case for continued family support based on the impact they make.’

Angela Donkin, senior adviser at UCL Institute of Health Equity and one of the authors of the framework, said, ‘ This guide sets out the best measures available for monitoring progress on important aspects of children’s development, parenting and the environment in which they live. If local areas, and the services within them, utilise the same reliable measurement standards, this will drive forward improvements in children’s outcomes and build the evidence base on what works. However, this will be of little value if only a few children benefit. We encourage local areas to continue to invest in effective early years services and children’s centres that are accessible to all.’