Government 'understating' extent of Sure Start children's centre closures as thousands of families lose 'vital' support

As many as1,000 'life-saving'Sure Startcentres for young children and families have closed across UK since 2009 – twice as many as the government has reported, warn academics.

The government is understating the rate at whichSureStart children’scentres are closing as thousands of families across the UK lose out on vital support, according to a new report.

Research by a team of academics from the University of Oxford shows that as many as 1,000 Sure Start centres across the country have closed since 2009 – twice as many as the government hasreported.

The report warns thatclosures are creating a “postcode lottery” of early years provision, warning that the children’s centre programme is now at a “tipping point”, with more authorities preparing to make drastic cuts this year - writes independent.co.uk

The national database recorded a 14 per centdrop in centre numbers between 2009 and October2017, but the findings indicate that thisunderstates the true figure, asa large number of “linked sites”were counted by some authorities but not by others.

When only counting “registered centres”, the drop since 2009 was more than 30 per cent, the report states,suggesting that more than 1,000 centres nationally might have closed.

According to the study, services have been “hollowed out” and are often no longer “in pram-pushing distance”, with the focus oncentres changing to families that have been referred as “high need”.

It comes at a time whenlocal authorities, faced with funding cuts, are strugglingto provide support for vulnerable children and families, with many left with no option but to close services designed to detect early signs of child neglect and abuse – forcing them to direct to a “crisis” firefighting model .

It emerged earlier this week that spending on children and young people’s services hasbeen axed by nearly £1bn in real terms over the past six years, prompting concerns that thousands of families are missing out on “lifeline” support.

The Sure Start children’s centre programme, introduced in 1998 by the last Labour government, brought together “under one roof” services for young children and their families. Focused initially on the most disadvantaged areas in England, the programme was later extended to all areas.

By its peak in August 2009, there were 3,632 centres, with more than half (54 per cent) in the 30 per cent most disadvantaged areas. However, in recent years, its status as a key national programme has diminished amid substantial budget cuts, the suspension of Ofsted inspections and increasingly uneven local provision.

Alka Dass, a mother of one from High Wycombe, toldThe IndependentSureStart was a “lifesaver” for her after she gave birth to her child just two weeks after her mother died at the end of 2015.

“SureStart has been a massive lifeline for me. When I had my son my mum had died two weeks before, so it was hard not having her around and my family was going through a lot of grief.Having a child you can feel quite isolated anyway, so it was tough,” she said.

“But I started going to the children’s centre on a weekly basis – it was a real lifesaver. My confidence started building, I started attending different sessions. It’s good for your mental health and keeping everything in check. I would be very lost without it.

“Speech therapists who came in on an informal basis worked with my son, who has delayed speech. It’s really built his confidence, and going to the centre has helped develop his social skills through meeting lots of other children.”

Ms Dass, who is working with other parents on a campaign to end the closureof children’scentres, which will includea march to Downing Street next month, said SureStart is a preventative model thathelps familiesavoid reaching crisis point, by simply giving parents a support network in their community.

“The centres are in walking distance and anyone can use them. It’s much easier for a mum to walk into a children’s centre setting than call up a social worker. You just knock on their door and you know they will welcome you. There are staff who are trained when you’re going through a tough time,” she said.

“One woman recently said the centre helped her from suicide. It’s preventative support – these centres help to prevent family problems from escalating by just talking about what’s going on. As they close, the stress on GP surgeries and mental health services will increase.”

The report finds big regional variation in the extent of closures, with 16 authorities who had closed more than half of their centres accounting for 55 per cent of the total number of closures by 2017.

But in areas with fewer closures there’s been a reduction of services and staff, leading to fewer open access services such as Stay and Play and more parents having to rely on public transport to find a centre offering what they need.

Tracy Brabin MP, the shadow early years minister, said:“Sure Start provides support and education for families who need it most, yet as this report shows, Conservative cuts have created a postcode lottery in Sure Start provision.

Liberal Democrat education spokesperson and MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, Layla Moran,said:"I saw every one of the children’s centres in my constituency close in the year before I became an MP and I know what a devastating impact that has had for some vulnerable local families.

"This report provides yet more evidence that the Government must act to stem this tide of closures."

To stop theclosure of centres and restore a sense of purpose, the Sutton Trust is calling on the government to complete the long-promised review of the children’s centre programme, as well as maintaining a national register of children’s centrestoestablishminimum levels of provision.

Sir Peter Lampl, founder of the trust, said: “Good quality early years provision makes a substantial difference in the development of children especially those who come from the poorest homes.

“It is a serious issue that the services that Sure Start centres offer are much more thinly spread than they were a decade ago. Additionally, since 2010 there has been a precipitous decline of 30 per cent in the number of Sure Start centres.Thousands of families are missing out on the vital support they provide.

“The government should complete its long-promised review of the programme.Instead of trying to serve all age groups, children’s centres should reconnect with their original purpose of promoting child and family development for the 0-5 age group.”

Professor Kathy Sylva, lead author of the report, said: “Our national survey of local authorities found wide variation in level of closures and in number of services on offer.This is all the more alarming in light of the government’s own evaluation of Sure Start showing many beneficial effects of children’s centre use on families.

“At a time of increasing pressure on poor families with young children, there is an urgent need for evidence based services to support them.”

Agovernment spokesperson said: “Councils will receive more than £200 billion for local services, including children and young people services, up to 2019-20. In addition to this we are investing more in childcare support than any other government – around £6 billion a year by 2019/20.

“It is right that we give councils the freedom to decide what services they provide for their communities as they are best placed to understand local needs and how best to meet them, whether through a children’s centre building, a family hub, or another model.”

Read more news of London on our site.

independent.co.uk
SureStartchildren'scentre
If you notice an error, highlight the text you want and press Ctrl + Enter to report it to the editor
2 views in august
I recommend
No recommendations yet

Comments

Comments are designed to communicate and discuss the features of an enterprise or event, as well as to find out the interesting questions on it.

Incidents
A man has been charged with the murder of a nurse who appeared on Britain's Got Talent in an NHS choir. Simonne Samantha Kerr, 31, from Wembley, was found fatally injured in a house in Grayshott Road, Battersea, on Wednesday - writes  bbc.com She was treated by paramedics but pronounced dead at the scene. Desmond Sylva, 40, of Grayshott Road, will appear in Wimbledon Magistrates' Court on Friday. Police are not looking for anyone else over Ms Kerr's death....
Society
A maths teacher has been showing off her artistic skills by decorating rocks with incredible miniature versions of book covers. Ella Dickson, 39, spends up to an hour painting covers of books like Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Northern Lights and Matilda on rocks. She posts her intricate creations on a local Facebook page before hiding them near her local library for kids to find, photograph and then often re-hide. Mum-of-two Ella is part of th...
Incidents
A doctor who worked as a physician to Britain’s Queen Elizabeth has been killed after colliding with a truck as he cycled through central London. Peter Fisher, 67, was riding through the High Holborn area on Wednesday morning when the collision occurred. Police said he had died at the scene. “We are all deeply shocked and saddened to learn that Dr Peter Fisher tragically died in a road traffic accident yesterday,” Gill Gaskin, medical director at Universit...
Society
Students collecting results from their school in the shadow of Grenfell Tower said they were proud to be bringing a sense of hope back to the community. Safety concerns forced Kensington Aldridge Academy to move to portable classrooms after the fire in June last year. Four of the school’s pupils and one former student were among the 72 killed. Students were given the choice to sit the exams in the original building or in the temporary classrooms. Many retu...
Society
A former refugee who stood outside Canary Wharf station with a sign pleading for work says he is "overwhelmed" after a tweet showing him standing with his sign went viral. 22-year-old Mohamed Elbarkey sayshis self-promotional stunt has earned him some promising job leads, including interviews at places he would "love to work at." Mr Elbarkey came to the UK with his family as a refugee from Libya and graduated with a 2:1 in Aerospace Engineering from Southa...
Society
In a UK first, shoppers in south London can now buy groceries in Sainsbury’s without going to the checkout or self-service scanner. By simply using their smart phone, shoppers can skip the queue altogether and buy products by scanning what they need themselves - writes standard.co.uk The supermarket chain is trialling new scan, pay and go technology in its Clapham North branch. The trial is thought to be the first of its kind not just in London, but the wh...
Crime
Four men have been stabbed and six have been arrested following an incident in Camberwell. Officers were called to playing fields outside Landor House at 5.24pm following reports of a stabbing. According to a Scotland Yard spokesperson, the four men, all believed to be in their teens,"have all been taken to south London hospitals." "Six males have been arrested in connection with the incident." Police remain at the scene. The condition of the four men is n...
Society
A dance festival for 10,000 revellers in a south London park has been refused a licence after complaints from couples that the event would “spoil” their weddings nearby - writes standard.co.uk Diynamic Festival was set to take place in Morden Park on September 8. Tickets were already sold for the event, which boasts a line-up of house and techno DJs including Solomun and Adriatique across two stages. But Merton council rejected a licence application for it...
Society
He made the promise as the government announced £10m to improve security and conditions at certain jails. New body scanners and sniffer dogs are to be introduced in 10 of England's most "challenging" prisons as part of a clampdown on drugs and mobile phones. The dogs have been trained to detect psychoactive substances such as Spice. Ministers also want to raise standards of leadership by sending prison governors to military-style colleges. And there will b...