Cash crisis hits centres for children

Record numbers of families are using children’s centre services but face losing the lifeline unless extra funding is made available, a survey by the 4Children charity found.

According to what the charity said was the only national survey of the services, for the first time more than 1m families are now using the centres, almost a third of them disadvantaged.

Almost three quarters (73 per cent) of centres have supported more clients but 66 per cent also face reduced budgets and 31 per cent expect to cut services next year as council funding cuts bite.

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Some 2 per cent expect to close altogether, the survey found.

To counter the decline, pupil premium funding for deprived school pupils should be extended to early years provision, 4Children joined other campaigners and bodies in recommending.

Much better integration with health agencies and troubled families teams was also required it said – with 62 per cent of children’s centres not represented on multi-agency risk assessment conferences.

Co-ordination with local health agencies was also inconsistent, the survey found – despite the potentially significant savings.

Chief executive Anne Longfield said: “The past 12 months have seen existing pressures on families mounting, with increasing strain on job security, household finances, relationships and widespread anxiety over the potential impact of further austerity cuts to local support services.”