These did not so much come into being in March 2003 as result from the government’s decision to rebrand early excellence centres and Sure Start (qv) projects which offer childcare and neighbourhood nurseries. They were later devolved to local authorities, although local authorities can only provide them themselves (as opposed to contracting their provision) as “a last resort”. Together for Children, a consortium, has been established to offer advice, support and expertise to local authorities in setting them up.
The programme is an important part of the government’s strategy to raise standards and integrate services for young people and families in England. It aims to develop, demonstrate and disseminate models of excellence in delivering centre-based, integrated, multi-agency services, which meet the needs of children and families, raise standards and have a national impact. Children’s centres are intended to meet the needs of families in the 20 per cent most disadvantages wards in England and improve children’s life chances and their parents’ access to work and training.
They offer early education integrated with full day care, parental outreach, family support, health services, a base for childminders, links with JobCentre Plus and training providers, links with neighbourhood nurseries and extended schools, and management and workforce training.
There are now 1,339 used by 1 million children and by March 2008 it is intended that there will be 2,500 and in March 2011 there will be 3,5000.