Rise in vulnerable families using children's centres

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Despite a record number of disadvantaged families using children's centres, uncertainty over their future remains,new research shows.

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According to the census, more disadvantaged families are accessing their local children's centre

According to 4Children's fourth annual Children's Centre census, 335,000 vulnerable families are using their local children's centre, up from 320,000 in 2013.

The figures are based on responses from 421 managers representing 879 children’s centres in England.

However, comparing figures with last year's Children's Centre Census 2013, the total number of families using children's centres has fallen from 1,090,000 in 2013, to 1,050,000 in 2014 -  a drop of 3.66 per cent.

Despite an increase in demand for services from disadvantaged families, 57 per cent of children's centres in the survey expect their budget to fall next year, leaving them with reduced resources.

More than half of the centres think there will be changes to their structure in 2015, with 44 per cent of standalone centres predicting they will become part of a cluster.

A fifth of the children’s centres already in a cluster believe the area their cluster covers will be expanded, while three per cent expect to close in a year’s time.

Because of changes to budgets and structure, 53 per cent of centres implied that meeting the demand for services will be a challenge during the coming year.

The census also shows that children’s centres are working in a more joined-up way, with 54 per cent of targeted services provided through partnerships.

More than half of centres reported greater engagement with a range of their partners, including social care, health, the local Troubled Families programme, and midwives.

This is an improvement on last year when the charity’s census found that nearly half of centres were not being involved in the Government’s Troubled Families programme.

Anne Longfield, chief executive of 4Children, said, ‘Our census brings both good news and bad for disadvantaged families who rely on the support of children’s centres.

‘The good is that children’s centres are getting better at reaching families and in providing the specialist parenting support they need including support for those experiencing mental health problems, domestic violence and alcohol dependency.

‘The bad news is that the budgets for these services are under unprecedented pressure over the next year, with many centres predicting a reduction in services as a result.

‘Reducing support for the most vulnerable families who are struggling to cope could leave many to fall into crisis with high social and economic costs for us all.

‘As we approach the general election we are calling on all political parties to protect and boost children’s centres to maximise the potential of these brilliant resources for families experiencing tough times.’

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