Disadvantaged children are missing out on essential support because children’s centres are being blocked from finding out where they live, according to a new report by The Children’s Society.
The report, The Right Start, found that almost half (47%) of local authorities are failing to routinely inform children’s centres about new births in their area – in breach of government guidance.
A majority of local authorities that are failing to share data (60%) say they are unable to obtain the information from local health services.
Children’s centres need regular data on births and arrivals so they can contact new families in their local area at the earliest opportunity and ensure they are receiving the support they need.
The failure of local authorities and health services to provide this information routinely is making it much harder for children’s centres to do their job.
It means many vulnerable families may be unaware of the support and services available including parenting programmes, debt advice and free early education.
It is also making it much harder for children’s centres to meet Ofsted targets that expect children’s centres to know 97% of families with children under five in their area to be awarded an outstanding grade.
The Children’s Society is calling on the government to make it a clear legal duty for local authorities and health services to share live birth data with children’s centres to ensure families know about and can access the vital services available.
The charity, which supports disadvantaged families through campaigns and direct services, including running 46 children’s centres, sent Freedom of Information requests to every local authority in England asking whether they provide live birth data.
Despite government guidance recommending that health services and local authorities should share live birth information with their children’s centres, almost half of local authorities responding (47%) do not routinely share live birth data with children’s centres in their area on a monthly basis. Almost 10% of local authorities provide so-called ‘live birth data’ only quarterly or annually, while more than one third (37%) said they did not share data at all at the local level.
During debate on the Children and Families Bill, in November 2013, the government chose not to support an amendment that would have required NHS trusts to share data on live births with local authorities, arguing that existing guidance was 'clear that health services and local authorities should share information, such as live birth data, with children’s centres on a regular basis'.
Val Floy, Chief Operating Officer at The Children's Society, said: 'The first years in a child’s life are critical in supporting school readiness, learning and development and family relationships, and we know early education and support is particularly important for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
'By withholding vital data about new births, councils and health services are preventing children’s centres from fulfilling their core purpose to support children in their early years. The authorities should do the right thing and give children’s centres the information they need to do their job.'
For more information please call The Children’s Society’s media team on 020 7841 4422 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For out-of-hours enquiries please call 07810 796 508.
Notes to editors
- The Children’s Society sent a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to all local authorities in England in February 2014. The request asked local authorities whether they provide live birth data to their local children’s centres and if so how regularly. It also asked if the information was not shared, what the reason was for this. We received responses from 147 local authorities in England.
- ‘Live birth data’ refers to information on the number of new born children in an area and includes the number of live births along with individual records of each child and their parents living within a specific locality.
- The Department for Education’s Sure Start Children’s Centres Statutory Guidance stipulates that local authorities and health services should supply useful data, including live birth data, regularly to their children’s centres yet it is clear from our findings that this is not happening routinely in local areas.
- The amendment to the Children and Families Bill, which would have required health services to share data with local authorities, was debated in the House of Lords on 18 Nov 2013. See Hansard Column GC318: www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201314/ldhansrd/text/131118-gc0001.htm
- The Children’s Society wants to create a society where children and young people are valued, respected and happy. We are committed to helping vulnerable and disadvantaged young people, including children in care and young runaways. We give a voice to disabled children, help young refugees to rebuild their lives and provide relief for young carers. Through our campaigns and research, we seek to influence policy and perceptions so that young people have a better chance in life.