The focus on improving services for disadvantaged families in the government’s Sure Start programme could be lost in the rush to create a children’s centre in every community, a committee of MPs have warned.
A report published today by the Public Accounts Committee says the guarantee of a centre for every community means “resources will have to be spread more thinly” and calls on local authorities to make sure disadvantaged families continue to be a priority.
There were around 1,000 Sure Start children’s centres in September 2006, and local authorities are responsible for raising this to 3,500 by 2010.
The report also highlights research published by the National Audit Office last year which found one in three centres were not doing enough to reach the most disadvantaged families. It calls on centres to seek help from national and local voluntary groups that have expertise in reaching out to disadvantaged groups.
The report says parents are generally happy with the services that are provided, but “smaller ethnic minority communities, single fathers and children with
special needs are less well served.”
In particular, families with disabled children need better information on what services they can expect to be provided in children’s centres, it adds.
Liberal Democrat children, young people and families spokesperson, Annette Brooke said thousands of children would remain trapped in poverty unless the centres made more effort to reach those families most in need of help.
She added: “Because there is so much to be done to address the chronic deprivation that blights many of our communities, every pound spent must be properly focussed. Local authorities need to better scrutinise the billions spent to ensure that as many people as possible are helped.”
More informationResearch: children’s centre pilot link worker post
Essential information on children’s services