Thousands of children's centres hit with budget cuts

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More than two-thirds of children’s centres have had their budgets cut this financial year and 130 are at risk of closure, new research shows.

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More than 2, 300 children's centres are thought to have seen their budgets cut this financial year

According to 4Children’s annual Children’s Centre census for 2015, based on responses from 388 managers representing 1,000 children’s centres in England, 68 per cent have had their budgets cut this financial year.

When extrapolated across all 3,382 children’s centres in England this equates to around 2,300 settings that have seen reductions to their budget, says 4Children.

Publication of the census follows an announcement by the childcare minister Sam Gyimah to launch a consultation into the future of children's centres in the autumn.

According to the census, as a result of budget cuts centres are having to reduce the number of services they offer and staff they employ.

When asked what services they plan to reduce over the coming year, centre managers stated stay and play, baby massage, music and movement sessions and fathers’ groups.

A third of respondents said they wouldn’t be able to reach as many families.

Currently between one million and 1.1 million children and families are using children’s centres on a frequent basis, according to the census.

Other ways in which centre managers plan to save money in light of cuts to their budgets include reducing the number of locations that service are delivered from, reducing their opening hours or charging for services.

The census also reveals large number of children’s centres are operating under conditions of significant uncertainty.

Approximately 130 children’s centre sites are currently at risk of closure and there is uncertainty about the future of a further 750 sites.

Services

The census indicates a trend towards children’s centres shifting their services towards targeting families with the highest need. Over three-quarters of centre managers said that the services they offer have become more targeted in the last year.

4Children warns that this trend may limit children’s centres’ ability to adopt an early intervention approach, which could lead to further costs down the line.

Recommendations

The charity goes on to make a number of recommendations in light of the census findings, they include:

  • For Government to prioritise children and families over the forthcoming Parliament and develop a comprehensive strategy to support their development;
  • Central and local Government to maximise the existing infrastructure of children’s centres, recognising their value and potential to deliver a range of services at a time when resources are stretched;
  • For there to be a clear commitment to maintain a universal offer alongside targeted services within children’s centres;
  • Increasing the provision of birth registration in children’s centres

Imelda Redmond, chief Executive of 4Children, said, ‘Over a million families across the country use children’s centres. No other part of our national infrastructure offers the same opportunity to identify and address problems early; bring communities together and make public services work better for families.

‘Year on year reductions to children’s centre budgets are a real cause for concern. Our census shows that cuts are directly impacting on children’s centres’ abilities to reach out and support families. The trend towards targeting services on the most vulnerable risks missing those families who we would otherwise only see through universal services.’

She added, ‘I hope this census provides the wake-up call that is needed to turn the tide and encourage investment in both targeted support and universal services so that all families can find the help they need.  The full potential of children’s centres has yet to be realised. It is time to build on the excellent work they already do by bringing together family services such as health, employment support and relationship support to give families the strong foundations they need to thrive.’

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