Who do you work with?

“I love my job – seeing the difference we are making in people’s lives. When we started it was me and three family workers in a classroom, with no telephones. Now we have more than 1,000 under-fours in our area and we see 600 in a week. Parents who came to us as parents have gone on to volunteer and are now going on to become midwives. It is very satisfying and a unique way of working.”
Maggie Whitfield, programme manager, Rawmarsh Children’s Centre, Rotherham

How many are there and how long have they been around?
There are 339 children’s centres, each employing one or two programme managers. Children’s centres first opened in March 2003, when the government announced it wanted to build on the work of early excellence centres, Sure Start projects offering child care, and neighbourhood nurseries. They are being developed in three phases: by March 2006 they are expected to reach at least 650,000 pre-school children in the 20% most disadvantaged areas across the country; by 2008 there will be 2,500 centres; and by 2010 there will be 3,500 – or one in every community.

Where are they usually located and what other professionals do they often work with?
Children’s centres are being developed from a variety of existing provision and are based in nursery schools, primary schools, health centres and community centres. Each centre has a manager, who will often work with nursery nurses, teachers, health visitors, midwives, speech and language therapists and social workers.

What is their main role?
The main role of a children’s centre manager is to ensure that services are delivered and targets on things such as children’s health and development, access to services, and parental involvement are met by communicating with the community and liaising with different professionals. Their aim is to enhance the life chances of children and their families by integrating flexible and high quality care, education, family support and health services and increasing their availability. Centres also provide outreach to parents, a base for childminder networks and links with JobCentre Plus and children’s information services. Some managers are also closely involved with the strategic development of children’s centres.

What are the main pieces of legislation governing their work?
The Children Act 2004 provides the legal framework for delivering the Every Child Matters agenda by which children’s centres and their managers are governed. In July, the government also launched a consultation on a proposed Childcare Bill, which would have implications for children’s centres. If implemented in its current form, it would place a duty on local authorities to meet the needs of working parents – and particularly those on low incomes and those with disabled children – and enshrine in law parents’ rights to expect accessible high quality child care and early years provision.

How and by whom is their work funded/commissioned?
Local authorities take the lead in planning and implementing centres with input from primary care trusts, local authorities, JobCentre Plus, education and child care providers, social services and the voluntary sector. This arrangement will become more formalised once children’s trusts are in place, led by children’s services directors and supported by pooled budgets. Centre managers are staff of the centres.

What is their average salary?
Salaries vary, but around £36,000 is average.

What is the normal training/qualification route?
Most have a degree in social work, social care, health or teaching, plus experience of managing people and budgets.

What is their biggest gripe?
The main challenges are in working across professional boundaries and in handling the uncertainties around funding, particularly beyond the current spending review and as the money currently ring-fenced for Sure Start is mainstreamed. The fact that centres will also be expected to open from 8am to 6pm for 48 weeks a year in the future will also lead to an upheaval in working practices, and raise issues around pay.

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