Don’t give up on Sure Start, urges Fatherhood Institute

27 January 2011

The Fatherhood Institute is calling on local authorities to continue investing in family and children’s services that think about families holistically, after a national survey revealed that as many as 250 Sure Start centres could close within the next year.

The survey by 4 Children and the Daycare Trust revealed the true scale of potential closures and cuts for the first time, suggesting that approximately 250 Sure Start centres – 7% of the total – are at risk of closing within a year; a further 2,000 expect to cut back the services they offer to families and 1,000 Centres are issuing ‘at risk of redundancy notices’ to staff.

Fatherhood Institute chief executive Rob Williams stressed the importance of investing at families at a time when many mothers and fathers face economic hardship: ‘If we are to become the most family friendly country in Europe as the Coalition wishes, we must support families – especially the most vulnerable ones – through these tough economic times. Local authorities must do everything in their power to continue investing in children’s and family services that think about families holistically. Properly supported families are more likely to stay together, improving children’s outcomes and generating huge savings for us all over the long term.’

Sure Start Children’s Centres’ budget was protected in cash terms in the Government’s Spending Review, but the ring-fencing of the money was removed. The national survey suggests that over the next 12 months:

• 250 (7%) will close or are expected to close, affecting an estimated 60,000 families

• 2,000 (56%) will provide a reduced service

• 3,100 (86%) will have a decreased budget

• Staff at 1,000 centres (28%) have been issued with ‘at risk of redundancy’ notices[ii]

Anne Longfield OBE, Chief Executive of 4Children said: ‘Families across the country, particularly the most vulnerable, depend on Sure Start Children’s Centres to help get their children off to the best start in life. We know that Local Authorities have some extremely difficult spending decisions to make but investment now will lead to real savings in the long term.

‘Local Authorities need to find new ways to ensure Sure Start Children’s Centres ‘earn their keep’ by allowing them to become genuine hubs for all children and families services in communities; reducing replication and improving impacts. Voluntary and community organisations stand ready to help Councils find innovative solutions to these funding dilemmas.’

Anand Shukla, acting Chief Executive of Daycare Trust said: ‘Behind every Children’s Centre facing closure is a community of families devastated at losing one of their most valued local services. The tragedy of these cuts is that the full extent of Sure Start’s impact on children’s development will only be achieved in the long term – and the impending closure of so many Centres means this investment will not now be fully realised.

Frank Field MP, Government adviser on poverty and life chances, suggested that local authorities ‘must seek to employ innovative methods to ensure families – especially the poorest families – do not lose the vital support they need’.

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