Cuts to over 2,300 children’s centres put help for struggling families at risk

National charity, 4Children, warns that widespread cuts to children’s centre budgets this year could have a damaging impact on hundreds of thousands of families across the country.

The charity today launches its 2015 Children’s Centre Census, which represents approximately 1,000 children’s centre sites – almost a third of the total number nationwide. It is the only annual survey to offer an insight into local and national changes to Children’s Centres - and their impact on the families who use them.

Key findings from the 4Children 2015 Children’s Centre Census include:

Budget reductions 

Almost two thirds (64%) of respondents representing 2,300 children’s centre sites have had their budgets cut in this financial year.

This is the fourth year running whereby a clear majority have reported budget cuts, indicating sustained funding pressures.

Impact on families

Over half of respondents who have experienced a budget cut (57%, representing 1,270 sites) say that this will mean reductions to frontline services.

A third (32%, representing 650 sites) say that budget cuts will mean they are unable to reach as many families as before. 28% (600 sites) say that budget cuts will mean they will have to reduce the number of locations from which they provide services. This could create barriers to access for families who need to travel further or use costly public transport to find help that was previously available on their doorstep. 28% (600 sites) are starting to charge for services that otherwise would have been free, while 20% (540) are reducing their opening hours - creating further barriers to access, particularly for working families.

Closures

Approximately 130 children’s centre sites are currently at risk of closure or of their building ceasing to operate as a children’s centre.
24% (750 sites) reported high levels of uncertainty around the future of their children’s centre.

Universal versus targeted support

Over three quarters of respondents (77% / 2,650 sites) reported a shift towards more targeted services, focusing on families most in need. Just 3% (70 sites) reported a shift towards more universal services.

The census indicates a sweeping trend towards children’s centres shifting their services towards targeting families with the highest need.

4Children warns that this trend may limit children’s centres’ ability to adopt an early intervention approach, where families receive help at an earlier stage to prevent problems from escalating further and becoming entrenched. It could also lead to further costs down the line - entrenched problems such as long-term unemployment, domestic violence and mental health issues which cost society far more than lighter touch support given earlier on.

Comparisons with previous years

This is the fourth year running where a clear majority have reported budget cuts, indicating extreme and sustained funding pressures. This is the third year where the majority of respondents have stated an increase in the number of children and families using their services over the past 12 months.

The census was conducted alongside a parents’ survey which found that:

Over 90% of parents who use Children’s Centres say that attending a Children’s Centre has had a positive impact on their child. 83% of parents said that attending a Children’s Centre had a positive impact on their confidence and skills as a parent. 79% of parents said that if they were unable to use their local Children’s Centre this would make life harder for them and their family.

When parents were asked about the one thing that their Children’s Centre offers that they do not get elsewhere.

The top 3 areas highlighted were:
  • The chance for them and their children to meet new people
  • Staff who are friendly and welcoming
  • Being able to get different kinds of support in one place

Imelda Redmond CBE, Chief Executive at 4Children said:

“Over a million families across the country use children’s centres. No other part of our national infrastructure offers the same opportunity to identify and address problems early; bring communities together and make public services work better for families.

“Year on year reductions to children’s centre budgets are a real cause for concern. Our census shows that cuts are directly impacting on children’s centres’ abilities to reach out and support families. The trend towards targeting services on the most vulnerable risks missing those families who we would otherwise only see through universal services.

“I hope this census provides the wake-up call that is needed to turn the tide and encourage investment in both targeted support and universal services so that all families can find the help they need.  The full potential of Children’s Centres has yet to be realised. It is time to build on the excellent work they already do by bringing together family services such as health, employment support and relationship support to give families the strong foundations they need to thrive.”

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