The charity’s figures are based on local authority annual returns (s251) published by the Department for Education.
They reveal that between 2010/11 and 2014/15, annual children’s centre expenditure fell from £1.2 billion to an estimated £740 million, a fall of 38.3 per cent.
With local authority budgets cut by as much as 30 per cent in some areas, the charity says that they are having to make tough decisions about how money is allocated.
Barnardo’s manages 190 of the 2,800 stand-alone children’s centres across England and says that the extra support that centres provide for families with young children is essential, especially in areas of high need.
The charity is urging the new Government to halt the decline by providing more money to local authorities, without which it says that annual funding on children’s centres over the next five years could fall by an average of £92m a year.
The charity is also calling on the Government to increase funding for three- and four-year-olds and protect funding for schools for the pupil premium and free school meals.
Barnardo’s chief executive officer Javed Khan said, ‘Cuts to basic early support now will only result in increased costs in the future. Without the vital support of children centres to the poorest children and families, we are simply neglecting the seeds of more costly problems later in the shape of troubled families, crime, substance abuse and unemployment.
4Children’s director of external affairs Helen Berresford said, ‘These figures are cause for concern for the great number of families who rely on the services and support provided by children’s centres across the country.
‘Reducing early support for children is a false economy. Evidence shows that intervening early can stop problems from escalating and help prevent families falling into crisis.
‘The existing network of children’s centres can transform the way we support families today – tried, trusted and at the heart of communities, centres can bring professionals and services together and act as a one-stop-shop for families in need of help. We should be looking at how we get the most out of our children’s centres – helping them to fulfil their huge potential.
‘Stronger families mean a stronger economy and investing in them makes social and economic sense.’
A Department for Education spokesperson said, ‘We want to see 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. And according to 4Children, record numbers of children are now using these centres.
‘Councils have a duty to ensure sufficient children’s centres to meet local need and to ensure they consult before any significant changes are made, including taking into account the views of local families and communities.
‘Local councils are best placed to decide on provision in their communities. Since 2010 we have increased funding for early intervention to £2.4 billion to help them meet local need.’