All children under the age five should soon have access to a children’s centre. Over 200 are already in place, aiming to provide family support and outreach to parents, as well as child and family health services and early learning integrated with child care. By 2010, there will be one in every community.
For this piece of research for the Department for Education and Skills, 25 children’s centres were visited and key workers interviewed to build up a picture of how existing centres are governed and managed.
Many of the centres have been developed from existing projects such as Sure Start Local Programmes, Neighbourhood Nurseries and Early Excellence Centres, and this has played a role
in the choice of governance adopted. In most centres, the centre manager was found to be the key person and many of the people interviewed said it was vital to recruit the right person for this job.
The research shows that local authorities differ greatly in their approach to rolling out children’s centres, with some having overarching strategies for children’s centres for their area and others a more ad hoc, bottom-up approach. However, most authorities have now developed strategic-level steering groups including statutory and wider partners. Two local authorities have linked their children’s centres to a school site – an idea others are also considering.
This study suggests that the strengths of existing programmes should be maximised and, where appropriate, schools used. There is also a need to rationalise the market for childcare, ensuring that children’s centres are not in competition with existing provision.
Parents, communities and partners all need to be involved in the centres, and effective partnership working is strongly linked to success.
Research to inform the management and governance of children’s centres