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Not so sure start
Government cuts could see 60,000 families lose their local Sure Start centre, according to a new study by the families charity 4Children and the Daycare Trust.
Around 250 Sure Start centres are expected to close, 2000 will provide a reduced service and 3100 will have a smaller budget. The study came as the government's response to the Fifth Report from the Children, Schools and Families Committee was published (see tinyurl.com/6enaleo). According to the response, 'The Government recognises the importance of children's centres and believes they have huge potential as they bring together services in new and innovative ways.' Directing funding through a new Early Intervention Grant 'will give Local Authorities greater flexibility to make funding decisions based upon the needs of their communities. We have ensured there is enough money in the Early Intervention Grant to maintain the existing network of Sure Start Children's Centres, accessible to all but identifying and supporting the most vulnerable and disadvantaged families. Important new investment through Department of Health budgets to provide 4,200 extra health visitors, working alongside outreach and family support workers, will enable stronger links with local health services.'
However, Dr Christopher Arnold (Senior Educational Psychologist with Sandwell Inclusion Support Service) told The Psychologist: 'Grant funding may not be very successful in building sustainable services. Grants are often time limited and the contracts for staff are for fixed terms. When staff see a "permanent" post in a different place, they go for it. Grant-funded initiatives may be good for providing posts for temporary staff, but they may not be so attractive for more experienced practitioners.'
Arnold says that 'as an educational psychologist, I have used [Sure Start] Children's Centres to coordinate responses to vulnerable children in a way which would have been impossible a decade ago. They have links with a wide range of professionals in a user-friendly environment allowing quick and easy access to services.'
The anxiety often felt by families around child development centres and hospitals is rare in Children's Centres, according to Arnold. 'Psychologists working with early years professionals value the ease with which most families approach CCs. Their closure would increase the barriers for families to access psychological services, reduce the effectiveness of psychologist's work and increase the difficulty of supporting children in the early years.'
Edward Melhuish, Professor of Human Development at Birkbeck, University of London, and Executive Director for the National Evaluation of Sure Start, told us: 'How closures will work out will depend almost entirely on how local authorities choose to distribute cuts. It is unclear to me what picture is at the moment.'
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