Posted: 16 July 2014

We need to overcome information-sharing barriers

Today, The Children’s Society’s launched its latest report The Right Start, which examines the practice of sharing live birth data between local authorities, health services and children’s centres. 

Live birth data - information about births within a local area - is crucial information for children’s centres, as it helps them to ensure that they are able to get in touch those families that desperately need their support. Without this information it is near impossible for children’s centres services to reach all the families that need their help.

Worryingly, The Right Start finds that nearly half of local authorities are not regularly sharing this data with their children’s centres.

A mixed picture of information sharing

Nearly half of local authorities (47%) are not regularly sharing live birth data with their children’s centres, and more than a third (37%) are not sharing this data at all. Live birth data is important as it enables early intervention by allowing children’s centre staff to make initial contact with families. 

The lack of awareness of children’s centres and their services has been an on-going issue with the most vulnerable families particularly being at risk of slipping through the net because they are not known to their nearest children’s centre. 

Children’s centres provide crucial support for families across England by offering a range of services such as parenting and health programmes. As Vice Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Sure Start Children’s Centres, I recognise the important role of children’s centres services in attaining good outcomes for all families. 

The APPG on Sure Start Children's Centres' Best Practice for a Sure Start report highlighted the important role of children’s centres and outlined methods of best practice so that all children have the right start to life. In this report, live birth data sharing was identified as an instrumental tool for children’s centres in targeting families living within its reach area. 

We need to clarify our legislation

Last year, I attempted to raise this issue and proposed an amendment to the Children’s and Families Bill 2013-14 that would hold local authorities and health services responsible for the sharing of live birth data to children’s centres. Unfortunately, this amendment was not adopted and the government’s recent response claimed that there is no need for revised regulation. Findings in The Right Start reinforce this need for clarity in legislation as many local authorities are uncertain about the legal implications of personal data sharing.

With children’s centres increasingly facing budget constraints and tougher Ofsted requirements, the recommendations The Right Start makes are to be welcomed in supporting them with the delivery of their services. 

By The Earl of Listowel - Guest bloggers

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