New children’s centre guidance puts fathers firmly on the agenda

4 December 2006

New guidance issued by the Department for Education and Skills has set out a new management framework through which Children’s Centres will be judged on how well they engage with and support fathers.

The guidance states clearly that ‘research shows that fathers are as important as mothers’, and sets up a series of key performance indicators which will for the first time enable the government to assess to what extent Children’s Centres are engaging with and supporting fathers. Children’s Centres will also have to account for their level of involvement with fathers in the previous year.

Under the new system, all staff will be expected to routinely engage with fathers as well as mothers, and Children Centres are being told they ‘should develop recruitment and training strategies that ensure all staff are sensitive to the needs of fathers as well as mothers’. Local authorities should consult with fathers and mothers before strategies are decided, and involve them in planning, delivery and governance of services, the guidance says.

Below is a summary of the key points relating to support of father-child relationships, as set out in the Planning and Performance Management Guidance. To read the guidance in full, visit the Sure Start website.

Sure Start Children’s Centres Planning and Performance Management Guidance and Self-Evaluation Form: Fathers Direct’s summary of key points about supporting father-child relationships

A. Introduction

The Guidance provides a framework for local authorities and Children’s Centres to use together to review the performance of Children’s Centres. It includes key performance indicators, which DfES encourages local authorities to use in monitoring the performance of Children’s Centres, and a self-evaluation process for Children Centres to use themselves in assessing their own effectiveness.

B. Management Guidance


• Fathers to be included in information, advice and support to parents.

Children’s Centres will provide a range of services depending on local need and parental choice. The aim is for a network of centres across the country, offering information, advice and support to fathers and mothers/carers, as well as early years provision (i.e. integrated childcare and early learning), health services, family support, parental outreach and employment advice for disadvantaged families.

The aim is to improve outcomes for all young children, and in particular to close the gap between the outcomes for the most disadvantaged children and others. Universal services must include a specific focus on supporting those in most need, and should be tailored to meet particular needs of individual children, parents, their families, and the communities in which they are based.

The intention is that Children’s Centre services become permanent mainstream community services, which are developed and delivered with the active involvement of parents/carers and the local community.

Strategic planning

• Fathers to be included in consultation and planning with local parents.

As an important instrument in achieving the 5 outcomes for children and young people set out in Every Child Matters, Children’s Centres should feature in the local authority Children and Young People’s Plan (CYPP).

When local authorities are planning Children’s Centres and before decisions are taken they must ensure the views of children, fathers and mothers, carers, and families are valued and taken into account in the planning, delivery and evaluation of services. Particular action will need to be paid to their views on how to ensure these services will be accessible, and culturally appropriate, for the communities they serve.

Reaching the most excluded groups

• Previously excluded groups that need particular engagement include young fathers and black and minority ethnic fathers.

Past research has generally shown that a small group of children and their families are frequently excluded from mainstream services and that these families are often the ones who are at most risk of achieving poor outcomes and of living in poverty. It is particularly important that family support and outreach services reach all children and their families, including those who have not normally accessed services. Local authorities must ensure that centres offer strong outreach and home visiting services as part of their core business – taking services to families, rather than expecting families to come to the centre, will be, in some cases, the only way children will benefit.

When planning Children’s Centres consideration should be given to ensuring access by those communities whose take up of services in the past has been low. Teenage fathers and mothers, lone parents, parents of disabled children, fathers and mothers from minority ethnic families, parents with a learning disability or mental health problems, those experiencing domestic violence or misusing drugs, families of offenders, and families in temporary accommodation can be among those most in need who are often excluded from mainstream services.

What must Children’s Centres offer in the 30% most disadvantaged areas?

• Fathers should receive integrated learning and care services and antenatal advice.
• Fathers should be consulted and informed about local services.
• Specific strategies and activities required to engage fathers.

Services that must be offered in the 30% most disadvantaged areas (super output areas ) include:
• Integrated learning and care suitable for working mothers & fathers/carers for a minimum of 5 days a week, 48 weeks a year,10 hours a day
• Specific strategies and activities which increase the involvement of fathers
• Antenatal advice and support for mothers & fathers/carers
• Consultation and information sharing with mothers & fathers/carers, on what services are needed, and systems to get user feedback on services
• Ongoing arrangements in place to ensure mothers & fathers/carers have a voice e.g. parents’ forums, including fathers.

Children’s Centres may also offer fathers and mothers/carers help with accessing training, work, advice and information and may well offer a range of other services, although funding for these services may need to be accessed from other sources. Services could include training for fathers and others/carers, including English as an Additional Language where relevant, Basic Skills, or parenting classes; adult relationship support; contact centres.

What must Children’s Centres in the 70% more advantaged areas offer?

• Information should reach fathers on local services and on how to care for babies and young children.
• Activities at the centre should include fathers.
• Support and outreach services to fathers and children with identified need

In the main, these Children’s Centres should be developed from existing maintained, private, voluntary or community provision with additional services being added to meet identified local needs. Priority must be given to identifying and reaching out to disadvantaged or vulnerable families. The intensity of services offered by Children’s Centres in the 70% more advantaged areas should vary according to the level of disadvantage in that area.

Although local authorities will have flexibility in which services they need to provide to meet local need, all Centres will have to provide a minimum range of services including:
• appropriate support and outreach services to parents/carers and children who have been identified as in need of them;
• information and advice to fathers and mothers/carers on a range of subjects including: local childcare, looking after babies and young children and local early years provision (childcare and early learning) education services for three and four-year olds
• drop-in sessions and other activities for children and mothers & fathers/carers at the centre, including: parent groups, play groups, adult education.

All Children’s Centres providing early years provision are expected to be open for a minimum of 10 hours a day, 5 days a week, 48 weeks a year. They also have flexibility to open at other times such as evenings or weekends to meet local need. Centres in the 70% more advantaged areas that are not providing early years provision have greater flexibility to open at times that meet local demands and needs.