07/11/2014 04:21 GMT | Updated 20/05/2015 06:12 BST

The Scandal Of Sure Start Closures


A third of Sure Start children's centres are at risk of closure, new figures reveal.

This will come as a huge disappointment for the thousands of mums and parents who joined campaigns to keep them open in the early years of the Coalition government.

It will also be a terrible blow to the million families who use these centres every year.

It's a shocking state of affairs that, as more and more evidence emerges about the crucial nature of early years education and support, help is being cut, and cut, and cut.

So why do we need children's centres? Well, if you live near one, you'll probably know. If you don't, that's a crying shame.

Sure Start children's centres are a hub for health advice, childcare and support. They're packed full of midwives, health visitors, social workers and childcare professionals. They offer help for parents who are struggling with different issues around their children's development. They also provide mostly free classes and groups where mums and dads can take their children to try out new activities and meet others in their community.

Ours offers, among other things, a breastfeeding support group, postnatal physiotherapy, parenting courses, free consultations with family law specialists, sleep drop-in classes, stop smoking services, baby massage and sensory play.


The first five years of a child's life are fundamentally important in the development of the child's brain. And parents need support throughout those years.


Often, now, we don't have the support of an extended family around us. Yes, we need help to become good parents. There's no shame in that.

Children learn more quickly during their early years than at any other time in their life. They need mental stimulation and attention in order to learn and develop. We don't all have the resources or the knowledge to give them everything they need to reach their potential. Sure Start centres give their parents easy, cheap access to the services they need to help provide this.

These centres are often located in those more deprived neighbourhoods where they are most needed – where there might not be a toddler group, or anywhere else for people to meet, and where families are most vulnerable.

The centres are less intimidating places than a GP surgery, for example, if you're struggling with postnatal depression. Certainly less scary than calling social services if you're at your wits' end with your child's behavioural problems.

4Children, which collated the new figures, is battling to save these incredibly important centres. Chief Executive Anne Longfield says: "Reducing support for the most vulnerable families who are struggling to cope could leave many to fall into crisis with high social and economic costs for us all.

"As we approach the general election we are calling on all political parties to protect and boost Sure Start children's centres to maximise the potential of these brilliant resources for families experiencing tough times.

"It is essential to prevent further budget cuts because we know that investing in families who are beginning to struggle is a more cost effective way to use limited resources rather than waiting until problems have escalated into costly crisis."

Ellen Broome, Director of Policy for the Family and Childcare Trust, agrees that Sure Start centres are crucial. "Children's centres provide vital services for parents and for children, particularly the most disadvantaged, ensuring that they get help and support early," she says.

"It is positive that so many have remained open during such difficult financial circumstances, and local authorities should be commended on their efforts. It is key that local authorities continue to make sure parents are able to access the crucial services and support they need, and central government must support them in doing so."

It's just been reported that nearly half of all children in Liverpool start school unable to count to 20.

That's not just the fault of their parents – it's the fault of the society around them, which has failed to provide them with what they needed in those vital early years. And if those children are given no support, how are they going to support their own children when they come along?

The news is full of shocking stories about children who are not being given the best chances in life. Stories of children with rotting teeth, who can't recognise their own name, who go to school in nappies, who join reception class unable to speak, who have to be socialised by their teachers before they can learn anything.


It's all too easy to wring our hands and say 'I blame the parents'. But those parents clearly need support that they can't get.


We need to take collective responsibility for our children and recognise that most parents need help and support in order to raise their children into happy, well-rounded, useful members of society.

Children's centres are a huge investment in our future.

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