Sweeping cuts of £1.5 billion to early intervention funding and a multitude of barriers are stopping many of those families most in need from using children’s centres, reveals a report by The Children’s Society.
Breaking Barriers highlights a catalogue of constraints for both parents and practitioners - exacerbated by budget cuts – leaving too many deprived families and children without key support.
These Sure Start children’s centres provide vital support to families with young children including advice and help on children’s health and education, high quality childcare, outreach to parents and assistance in helping them find training and employment.
The Children’s Society has serious concerns that funding cuts hitting children’s centres will make it increasingly difficult to help disadvantaged families. The Early Intervention Grant, which provides vital funding for children’s centres, will be halved between 2010 and 2015, from £3 billion a year to £1.5 billion.
The charity is urging the government to ring-fence support and not make further cuts to these critical services to make sure as many deprived families as possible can use them.
Based on a survey of parents with children aged up to five not using their local children’s centre, ‘Breaking Barriers’ is also calling for other barriers to support access to be tackled. Findings include:
• Many disadvantaged families have very little knowledge of children’s centres. Of parents not using their local children’s centre, three quarters were unaware of what services were on offer. Four out of ten said they had never even heard of them.
• A quarter of parents quizzed said they found it difficult to access their local children’s centre. In some cases, they were not within “pram-pushing” distance or were cut off from key services by a main road.
• Transport was a significant barrier particularly in rural areas as disadvantaged families can be very isolated if they do not have access to a car. A third (35%) of survey respondents said they faced travel costs to go to a centre.
• Working parents often struggle to use children’s centres because of their work commitments. The survey shows working parents were twice as likely to face difficulties in accessing children’s centre services compared to non-working parents. Six in ten children living in poverty are in a household where at least one parent is working .
The Children’s Society is also concerned that many of the children’s centres consulted faced difficulties identifying the disadvantaged families in their local area as they were not being provided with adequate information from relevant services.
Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society, said: “Children’s centres do vital work supporting some of this country’s most vulnerable families. Yet our report outlines deeply concerning funding cuts and a catalogue of barriers which are preventing too many of the families that need them most from using these crucial services. We know that prevention now is better than struggling with these problems down the line, and can be cheaper in the long run.
'We urge the government to make no further cuts in funding for key early intervention services. Money should be ring-fenced for children’s centres to make sure these critical services are protected.'
Breaking Barriers makes a range of recommendations, including calling on the government to pilot birth registration in children’s centres to increase awareness of local services available to parents.
It also calls for health and other local services to have systems in place for the appropriate sharing of relevant information, such as live birth data, with children’s centres in their area.
The report finds that some children’s centres are struggling with the size and shape of the areas they have to serve, and recommends that local authorities should review these areas to make sure all disadvantaged communities can access these services.
For more information please contact Jemma Mahon in The Children’s Society’s media team on 0207 841 4422, or by email. For out of hours enquiries please call 07810 796508
Notes to editors
• ‘Breaking Barriers’ is based on a survey conducted across England with families who use children’s centres and those that do not. This survey was carried out through face-to-face interviews with families and practitioners in The Children’s Society’s children’s centres.
• In 2010 the Early Intervention Grant was created by pulling together a number of funds. The grant includes funding for Sure Start Children’s Centres across the country which focus on early years activities. Around two thirds of the EIG grant is used to fund Sure Start centres.
• 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. The Children’s Society work with children and families in 43 children’s centres across England.