Mixed picture for future of Sure Start centres
Many local authorities have prioritised protecting the future of their Sure Start Children’s Centres, but significant numbers remain at risk of closure in the next 12 months, according to new research.
The survey by 4Children, Daycare Trust and Nursery World was carried out as local authorities set their budgets for the year for the first time since the removal of the ring-fence on the Sure Start grant in October’s Comprehensive Spending Review. This gives local authorities new power to determine how much they spend on Sure Start provision in their area. The results show that whilst by law, all local authorities have a duty to ensure that appropriate consultation has been carried out before closing a Children’s centre or making dramatic changes to the provision of Children’s Centre services, a number are at risk.
The survey asked local authorities “Are you able to give a commitment to keeping all your existing Children’s Centres open in 2011-12?”
It found that:
39% of Local Authorities (59) were able to agree with the statement
19% of Local Authorities (39) were not able to agree with the statement but said that they had “no plans” to close their existing Sure Start Children’s Centres
42% of Local Authorities (62) either will make closures, had not finalised a decision on closures, or did not respond to the request.
These findings are released on the same day that a new poll of 2,000 mums conducted in conjunction with parenting club Bounty shows 83% of mums who used their Sure Start Children’s Centre felt that councils should be required to spend all their Sure Start funding on Sure Start, rather than other services and 15% were aware that some services would be cut, and 6% thought that existing staff would be losing their jobs.
When asked about the impact on their family if access to the Sure Start Children’s Centre was removed or limited, a majority of mums who use a Centre said that it would be harder for them and their child to meet other local families (53%). In addition 35% felt that they would feel isolated, 32% would find it harder to see their midwife or health visitor, 29% would miss out on advice with parenting skills, and 28% felt that their child’s development would suffer.
The most popular Sure Start service used by mums was stay and play sessions (63%), followed by health visitor (53%), rhyme/story time (34%) and midwife support/advice on breastfeeding (26%)
Anand Shukla, acting Chief Executive of Daycare Trust, said: “These local authorities have demonstrated that Sure Start closures are not inevitable. While we understand that there are tough spending decisions to be made, we know that investing in children today is an investment in the future of our society and economy. Our survey with Bounty mums shows how passionate parents are about Sure Start. They hugely value the services they can access, and see the benefits to their children’s development.
We hope that councils will listen to their local residents, who are forming strong campaigns across the country to fight these cuts. It is now clear beyond doubt that families will not stand back and watch short-term cost-cutting decisions close down the services provided in their much loved Children’s Centres.”
Anne Longfield OBE, Chief Executive of 4Children, said: “It is good news that a growing number of Councils are making a public commitment to keeping their Sure Start Children’s Centres open - it shows that it is possible to put families first even when times are tough financially. But this survey also proves that many parents still are right to worry, with a large number of local authorities yet to finalise their future plans, and some publicly acknowledging likely Children’s Centre closures.
“Sure Start has never been more crucial as families struggle to offer the best start for their children and those facing unemployment or family problems will find it hard to escape from their troubles without the support these Centres offer. The next few weeks are critical for the future of Children’s Centres: local and national decision makers must stand ready to step in to ensure such vital services are not lost forever.”
4Children, Daycare Trust and Nursery World are calling on local authorities to prioritise funding for Sure Start Children’s Centres; parents to voice their concerns to their local authority and for central government to monitor this situation closely to ensure that Sure Start Children’s Centres continue to play a key role in the future of family support.