Editor's view: the future for children's centres


The National Children's Bureau (NCB) has begun a wide-ranging and much-needed debate on the future of children's centres, including a survey about their purpose and value.

For the past three years, funding cuts have meant that more than 400 centres have closed and many others have scaled down services. There have been protests by parents about the closures, and a sense of a service in decline.

So a rigorous debate about children's centres comes not a moment too soon. The NCB has commissioned five experts to provide different perspectives, and these make for fascinating reading.

As one of these experts, Lisa Harker says if children's centres were abolished and we asked 'What kind of programme could transform children's lives?', we would no doubt reinvent them.

And yet for all their successes, we would not reinvent them exactly as the programme evolved - too many very expensive, underused buildings; difficulties integrating health and education; and wrangles over universal versus targeted services.

Lisa Harker's own suggestion is not to limit services to particular populations, but to focus on support during pregnancy and early infancy, when children are most vulnerable and parents most receptive to accessing help.

Dr Ingrid Wolfe of the Evelina London Child Health Project recommends the related approach of integrating primary and secondary health services within children's centres. All families need high-quality healthcare, she points out, and access to health services offers an ideal way into universal and targeted support.

The NCB essays provide some real food for thought for developing a more defined vision for children's centres. Everyone should join the debate if we are to hold on to and enhance this service.

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