10 Jan 2007

Children's centres - an opportunity for family learning?

A report by David Singleton, 10 January 2007, in Children Now draws attention to both an opportunity and a potential problem:

"Four children's centres have joined forces to dismiss Government claims about the money being spent on children's centres. The Kent-based centres spoke out after children's minister Beverley Hughes told a select committee that children's centres are being funded at around 66 per cent of the funding level associated with the original Sure Start centres (Children Now, 29 November-5 December 2006).

.......... "The figures we have seen propose that centres in Kent will have to run on close to £160,000 per annum. This compares with an average peak funding level of around £750,000 per annum for Sure Start centres."

Funding problems in children's centres were also flagged up in a major progress report published in December by the Government's spending watchdog.

The National Audit Office found that children's centres are valued by most of the families who use them, but warned that 13 per cent of centres are forecasting a financial deficit for the year. Furthermore, 52 per cent are doing no work to identify the cost or cost-effectiveness of services.

Children's centres were also shamed for not doing enough outreach work.

The report stated that fewer than a third are proactively identifying and taking services out to families with high levels of need. The Government recently revised practice guidance to state that children's centre managers must do more to get marginalised families using their services (Children Now, 6 December 2005-9 January 2006)."

Clearly Children's centres can - potentially - be an important access point for family learning services.

But how will their effectiveness be measured? Being "valued by most of the families who use them" is surely insufficient.

I believe nothing less than an acknowledgement that the measurement of change in 'social and domestic cohesion' by neighbourhood will do. Without proper evaluation, all the talk about 'respect' and ASBO's is mere rhetoric. Truancy, teenage pregnancy, abortion, out of wedlock births, the marriage/divorce ratio, domestic violence - all these are indicators of change in social and domestic cohesion, and could be expressed in a neighbourhood index.

No comments: