Children's centres should be used to help tackle family breakdown

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A new think tank report calls for children’s centres to be turned into 'family hubs' to improve child outcomes.

dadwithbaby

The CSJ makes a number of recommendations to enhance father's role in their children's lives

The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) says that family hubs would act as local ‘nerve centres’ to enable parents to access all family-related support including universal services and specialist help to meet their ‘most pressing needs’.

The idea is just one recommendation by the think tank to tackle ‘very high’ levels of family breakdown in this country, outlined in a new report-‘Fully committed? How a Government could reverse family breakdown’, the second of its Breakthrough Britain 2015 series.

Charity 4Children has continued to call for children’s centres to work as ‘community childcare hubs', and last year received a two-year Government funded contract to pilot this approach.

Family Hubs

According to the CSJ, the primary purpose of the family hubs would be to provide accessible, friendly and comprehensive support to strengthen local families.

This support would include birth registration, antenatal and postnatal services, information on childcare, employment and debt advice, relationship and parenting support, local activities for families and services for children over the age of five.

The think tank says that the hubs would maximise impact and reduce costs of statutory services through co-location and co-ordination.

They would also link with activities provided by local and community volunteers, faith and parent groups, who the CSJ claims can reach families in communities that tend not to visit children’s centres.

Fathers

The report goes on to recommend, within its section on fathers, that family hubs work on a payment by results method depending on how many dads they actively involve.

To make it easier for fathers, particularly young fathers, to attend family hubs, the think tank says these settings should be open for longer, for example from 8am-8pm, as well as at weekends.

Another recommendation in the report is for the requirement that fathers be included on a child’s birth certificate to help correct the imbalance of parents’ rights and responsibilities.

The think tank also calls for the Government to urgently raise the current threshold at which fathers are expected to pay the reduced and basic rates of child maintenance to enable paying parents to support themselves as well as their children.

Other chapters within the report cover children in care, kinship care, the Troubled Families programme, which the CSJ says should be made a long-term commitment, and supporting couple relationships.

Within ‘Supporting couple relationships’, the think tank promotes marriage as a way of preventing family breakdown and recommends waiving the registry office fee of £70 for couples intending to marry who take part in an accredited marriage preparation course.

Christian Guy, director of the Centre for Social Justice, said,  ‘For too long family breakdown in this country has gone unchallenged –despite the devastating impact it has on adults, children and communities.

‘The next Government can’t hide from this and needs to raise the stakes, get behind families and promote stability. This report outlines the ways to do it.

‘There is a dangerous assumption that family breakdown is inevitable in modern society –this should be absolutely rejected. Political rhetoric in this country shouldn’t just focus on economic recovery, but much needed social recovery too that should start with supporting families.’

Anne Longfield, chief executive of 4Children, said, ‘We are pleased that the Centre for Social Justice is backing our proposals to expand children’s centres into community hubs to provide inter-generational community support. 4Children is already developing centres in this way in a number of areas of the country, which are providing effective ways at providing exactly the sort of support families tell us they need.

‘Children’s Centres provide a wealth of family support to more than a million families and are therefore well placed to drive effective and joined up early intervention and support for the whole family.’

Fiona Weir, chief executive of the charity Gingerbread, said, ‘Most single parent families are doing a good job of bringing up their children. Government spending should be focussed on policies that make a real difference, for families of all shapes and sizes.

‘This report paints a melodramatic picture which is far from the reality of modern British family life. The vast majority of children in single parent households grow up perfectly well, and the proportion of households headed up by a single mum or dad has barely changed in over a decade.

‘The biggest factor affecting children's wellbeing is the daily grind of poverty - not whether their parents have a marriage certificate.’