The charity, which is currently working with a number of local authorities to develop new ‘Children and Family Hubs’, proposes rolling out the model that brings together a wider range of services across a broader age range, in every disadvantaged community.
Described as a ‘real game changer’ for public and community services by 4Children within its report entitled 'Children and Family Hubs', published today, the hubs aim to build upon the approach to integrated support pioneered in Sure Start Children’s centres.
Aimed at families aged birth to 19, the hubs bring together education, employment, specialist and health support, including GPs, health visitors and social care workers under one roof.
As part of this, 4Children proposes the introduction of a new role, a social care family worker, to be based at ‘Children and Family Hubs’.
The charity says this approach would reduce the possibility of children at risk slipping through the net and the pressure on an overstretched social care profession by identifying and addressing problems earlier.
4Children’s Children Centre Census, published last month, revealed a record number of disadvantaged families - 335,000 - are using centres.
Childcare support, says 4Children, is one area where there is real potential for more to be done through ‘Children and Family Hubs’.
Research by the charity in September showed that children’s centres have the potential to increase childcare places by a third for disadvantaged two-year-olds.
Within the report, it recommends placing a duty on local authorities to make efforts to deliver early education places for two-, three- and four-year-olds where a shortfall of places is identified as part of their duty to assess local provision and secure sufficient places.
The charity says that hubs could manage this childcare themselves or it could be operated by a private provider.
Expanding upon this, 4Children recommends that the number of free childcare hours should be increased from 15 to 25 hours a week, and for all two-year-olds, not just the 40 per cent most disadvantaged.
It goes on to suggest that childcare signposting should become the responsibility of hubs, co-ordinating and blending childcare in an area to offer parents flexible support, a model currently being trialled by 4Children around the country as ‘childcare hubs’.
While the charity recognises that almost all centres, 97 per cent - according to its 2014 Children’s Centre Census - are working with social care services and partners, it argues that there would be real benefits from extending all children’s centres to work more formally in the areas of social care and child protection.
It goes on to argue that Sure Start Children’s Centres are well placed to expand their offer to match the needs of families locally, and because of this calls for Government to protect their future.
As a minimum, 4Children says the Government should pledge not to implement any further cuts to the budget allocated for centres.
The charity also recommends the network of Sure Start children’s centres be placed on a statutory footing, along a similar basis to schools, to ensure they become a central feature of a ‘thriving community’ for all families to offer support and advice.
Anne Longfield, chief executive of 4Children, said, ‘Serious case review after review highlights the damage that is done when services don’t work together and when professionals are locked in their own silos. This lack of collaboration and lack of information sharing is putting vulnerable children at increased risk of serious harm.
‘That’s why 4Children is proposing a new approach to co-ordinate local services through ‘Children and Family Hubs’ to be built upon the tried and tested network of Sure Start Children’s Centres as trusted and integrated centres of the community.
‘This ambitious new approach has the potential to put children and family services at the heart of every community, co-ordinating services around the needs of local families, from antenatal to social care, working together to join up support and making the best use of the investment from the public purse.
‘We are calling on all the main political parties to support ‘Children and Family Hubs’, an innovative approach to supporting children and families by re-designing public services using existing resources to respond to local need.’
A Department for Education spokesperson said, 'We have provided grant funding to 4Children to support the creation of 18 pilot ‘Children and Family Hubs’, to explore innovative ways of improving services available to families.
'We agree that there should continue to be a strong network of children’s centres in place across the country, offering families access to a wide range of local, flexible services, tackling disadvantage and preparing children for life in modern Britain.
'We welcome the approach of local services working together and we are committed to giving councils the freedom to target their resources to best support their communities. We have also increased funding for early education and intervention to £4.6 billion in 2014/15 to help councils meet the needs of children and parents in their area.'
Lucy Powell, Labour’s shadow minister for Childcare and Children, said, 'I welcome these proposals from 4Children. Despite David Cameron’s promises Sure Start is withering on the vine. Ministers have failed to support and prioritise Sure Start and we are seeing the results in reduced services, fewer staff and the hollowing out of centres.
'Labour will renew and reinvigorate Sure Start. We will reform the way local services work together shifting from sticking-plaster services to radical early help to provide good quality support to all families that need it.
'Labour will enhance this Sure Start mission to support all families whilst focusing specialist services on the individual needs of families and children.'