...to the local community
The core purpose of children’s centres (nationally) is to improve outcomes for young children and their families and reduce inequalities between families in greatest need and their peers in:
- child development and school readiness;
- parenting aspirations and parenting skills; and
- child and family health and life chances.
Improve the well-being of young children in the following areas:
- physical and mental health and emotional well-being
- protection from harm and neglect;
- education, training and recreation:
- the contribution made by them to society; and
- social and economic well-being.
- reduce inequalities between young children in those areas; and
- make arrangements to secure that early childhood services in their area are provided in an integrated manner which is calculated to:
- facilitate access to those services; and
- maximise the benefit of those services to parents, prospective parents and young children.
Providing early learning for two, three and four year olds
Early years providers either run by, or on the site of, children’s centres, can provide funded early learning places. Children’s centres should also work closely with other providers offering funded early learning places to ensure that families who need it can access integrated support.
Children’s centres could also help support childminder agencies. Where children’s centres are running good childminder networks they may wish to explore turning these into agencies to offer a more comprehensive service to local children.
Supporting families’ economic wellbeing
The reduction of child poverty should be a priority for local authorities, commissioners and the leaders of children’s centres. In addition to links with Jobcentre Plus, children’s centres can encourage families to improve their skills, employment prospects and financial situation; for example, through local skills and training providers, voluntary organisations and volunteering, debt advice and other services, depending on the needs of their communities.
Decisions about support offered by (or on behalf of) Jobcentre Plus should be made locally. As a minimum there should be arrangements made at the centre to assist families on gaining access to employment support and advice. The Department for Work and Pensions has published a report (dated 11 August 2011) which presents final findings from the evaluation of the ‘Work-focused services in children’s centres’ pilot. Local authorities should give consideration to the local childcare market and to their duty to secure sufficient childcare, as far as is reasonably practicable, for working parents, or parents who are studying or training for employment. Providing services “through” a children’s centre does not mean that all services should actually be delivered in a children’s centre, or that children’s centres should be given any greater weight as potential service locations than other settings.
Supporting families in greatest need of support
To reduce inequalities in outcomes among young children in their areas, local authorities should commission and support children’s centres as part of their wider early intervention strategy and strategy for turning around the lives of troubled families. Local authorities should ensure that children’s centres offer differentiated support to young children and their families, according to their needs, by:
- offering access to integrated information and support to all prospective parents, new parents and parents of young children;
- encouraging and providing access to early intervention and targeted support, for those young children and their families who experience factors which place them at risk of poor outcomes; and
- helping troubled families with young children to access appropriate wider and specialist support to meet their needs in conjunction with the troubled families co-ordinator.
This should include ensuring these families know what is on offer within/via children’s centres. To help fulfil their duty to reduce inequalities between young children in the area, local authorities should consider the role that children’s centres can play by:
- providing inclusive universal services which welcome hard to reach families;
- hosting targeted and specialist services on site where appropriate (such as speech and language therapy, parenting programmes, mental health services and social care) or providing access to those services;
- considering the use of multi-agency assessment and referral processes; and
- having children’s centre outreach and family support staff work with other services to:
- support families before, during and after specialist programmes and/or interventions;
- provide opportunities to help families develop resilience to risk factors; and
- promote child development.
Links with the troubled families programme
All Local Authorities are putting in place improved services and systems targeted at the most troubled families locally and should ensure these plans consider the role of Children’s Centres. This might include for example:
- using outreach services to engage the families of children who do not take up the free early education offer or whose development is identfied as delayed ( for example in the new integrated check for 2 year olds);
- helping troubled families in touch with children's centres access more intensive family intervention by e.g Locating family intervention workers within children centres or providing swift referral from Children's Centres into more intensive services.
Using evidence-based approaches to deliver targeted, family-centred support
Children’s centres use universal activities to bring in many of the families in need of extra support. As families build up confidence and relationships with staff and other service users they often become more receptive to appropriate targeted activities. Children’s centres should combine evidence with professional expertise in order to decide which early interventions work best for local families. Where activites are not based on evidence, they should consider stopping these activities.
The following targeted services can make a difference for families with the greatest needs:
- Parenting and family support, including outreach work and relationship support (the quality of the relationship between parents is linked to positive parenting and better outcomes for children). Troubled families may benefit from family intervention delivered by a dedicated worker who overees a family plan who works assertively and provides practical support.
- Provision of integrated support in response to identified strengths and risk factors within individual families and support for troubled families. Targeted evidence-based early intervention programmes (such as those recommended by the Early Intervention Foundation, the NAPR, the Wave Trust and C4EO) where published evaluation demonstrates that particular interventions can help those families at greatest risk of falling furthest behind to make accelerated progress in improving outcomes.
- Links with specialist services for families with more specific needs (e.g. support for early speech and language development, support for disabled children, children with major health difficulties, or children likely to be “in need” or where there are safeguarding concerns, as in the Children Act 1989)