Children playing outsideA report from children’s charity the National Children’s Bureau has shown that parents and practitioners greatly value children’s centres and the services they provide to families, and that their continued funding should be secured.

The report, based on a survey of over 200 practitioners and parents, set out to discover what they value most about children’s centres, and to establish where they feel resources should be targeted in the future.

It found that children’s centres are seen as vital to their communities, with over ninety per cent agreeing that their local centre is important to the community, and nearly 90% saying that funding for children’s centres must be prioritised.

Dr Hilary Emery, Chief Executive of the National Children’s Bureau said: “As political parties prepare their manifestos ahead of next year’s election, they should recognise that children’s centres are highly valued by their communities, providing not only an effective mechanism for delivering a wide range of vital services, but also invaluable emotional support for families.”

Clear core purpose for children's centres
She continued: "With such a wide remit, and ever shrinking budgets, it is increasingly important that policy makers work with parents, practitioners and child development experts to agree a clear core purpose for children’s centres, specifying the outcomes children’s centres should achieve for all young children and their families.

"We would like to see a cross-party commitment to protect funding for children’s centres and to seize the opportunities offered by changes in policy and practice. For example, with responsibility for public heath for 0-5 year olds transferring to local government in 2015, there is the potential for greater collaborative working between children’s centres and public health services to innovate how services are delivered."

Highest priorities for children's centres
The majority of those surveyed (79.5%) agreed that children’s centres should be a universal service open to all, with specialised services reaching out to, and supporting, disadvantaged families.

Respondents also suggested that the identification of vulnerable families could be improved by: better data sharing between agencies, such as sharing information about births; better communication and integrated working between professionals; and closer engagement with the local community to identify those families most in need.

When it came to the focus of children’s centres, over 80% of all those who took part in the survey said they wanted children’s centres to continue to work with all children under the age of five. Respondents felt that the highest priorities for children’s centres should be: family and outreach support; early education and language development; and play opportunities.