GIVE CHILDREN BEST START AND ALLOW CHILDREN'S CENTRES TIME TO BEAR FRUIT, SAY MPs
The Children, Schools and Families Committee today warns that rushing to judgment on the worth of Sure Start Children's Centres would be catastrophic and could jeopardise one of the most innovative and ambitious initiatives of the last two decades.
Barry Sheerman MP, Committee Chair, said:
"To put at risk the pioneering work of the last twelve years would be nothing short of a disaster. The early years are when the greatest difference can be made to a child's life chances and it is vital that investment in Children's Centres is allowed to bear fruit."
Children's Centres are designed to address some of the most entrenched aspects of disadvantage, but the majority have been in place for less than four years. Evaluations of their impact will therefore only be meaningful over the long term.
Yielding to short-term financial pressure by reducing the number of Centres or pruning the range of services offered would be a mistake.
Only a universal service can ensure that all vulnerable children get the access they need, and the wide range of support and activities provided to families is a vital feature of the programme. Stable funding is essential.
The scale of the programme means important challenges remain. With a national network of Centres in place, there must now be a constant focus on raising the quality of staffing and services, and on improving the performance of Centres in reaching the most vulnerable families.
Partnership working with health servicesand particularly with GPsis patchy across the country. Children's Centres must not be an optional extra for health agencies. The Government should lead by example by re-establishing ministerial responsibility for the Sure Start programme in the Department of Health as well as the Department for Children, Schools and Families.
Information about value for money in Children's Centres is still unacceptably difficult to come by. More must be done to determine the total resources being put into the initiative from all Government departments.