Sure Start centre use plummets in Kirklees amid budget cuts
The number of children accessing Sure Start centres in Kirklees has plummeted by more than two thirds, according to a leading children's charity.
Action for Children said years of cuts by the Government had left councils with little choice but to reduce funding for children's centres – and in some cases close them all together.
A Freedom of Information request submitted by the charity has revealed a 71 per cent drop in the number of children and young people under 18 using Sure Start centres in Kirklees over a four-year period.
Sure Start children's centres provide early learning, childcare, health and social care services for children, as well as advice, information and training for parents.
They are designed to reduce inequality and improve outcomes and development for children.
In October 2017, there were 34 centres in Kirklees – 15 of them dedicated children's centres and 19 so-called linked sites, which Action for Children says offer fewer services than a full centre.
Kirklees Council recorded 4,230 children accessing services in its centres in 2017-18, down from 14,406 in 2014-15.
Over the same period, the council's expenditure on Sure Start centres fell by 45% in real terms, to £6.85 million in 2017-18.
Imran Hussain, director of policy and campaigns at Action for Children, said: “Children’s centres have seen their budgets slashed by almost two-thirds since 2010, leaving many thousands of new parents with nowhere to turn for early support.
“From helping parents manage difficult behaviour and embed routines for their children, there are few things with which they're not equipped to help.
"Crucially, they’re often the first place to identify serious issues like abuse and neglect and step in before problems spiral out of control.
"Giving children the best start in life is not only the right thing to do but helps to reduce the need for costly child protection services for when things go wrong."
Across England, the number of children benefitting from access to Sure Start centres has fallen by 18 per cent since 2014-15, and by 22 per cent in the most deprived council areas.
The Local Government Association says councils face a £3.1 billion funding gap in children's services by 2025.
Anntoinette Bramble, chair of the LGA’s children and young people board, said: “While many councils have adapted well to the funding pressures, there is a growing sense that councils have done all they can within ever-tightening budgets.
“It is inevitable that without new investment from government, councils will face the difficult but unavoidable decision of having to cut or close early help services such as children’s centres."
Nadhim Zahawi, minister for children and families, said it was up to councils to decide how to organise and commission services in their area.
He added: “We are spending around £3.5 billion on our early education entitlements this year alone.
"In addition to this, we are investing £84 million over the next five years to support up to 20 local authorities who are seeing high or rising demand for children’s social care to work more effectively with their most vulnerable families."