The Government is committed to Sure Start Children's Centres. children’s centres play a crucial role in early intervention, ensuring families can get help when they need it, tackling issues early and helping to prevent costly problems from emerging later on. The Government wants the network of children’s centres to be retained but focused much more effectively on those families who need them the most. We have ensured there is enough money in the system through the new Early Intervention Grant (EIG) to keep the network of children’s centres.
Local authorities continue to have duties under the Childcare Act 2006 to consult before opening, closing or significantly changing children’s centres, and to secure sufficient provision to meet local need so far as is reasonably practicable. Statutory guidance (published in March 2010) accompanies these duties, which outlines how the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 provisions relate to children’s centres.
The statutory guidance advises local authorities, primary care trusts and Jobcentre Plus on the action they should take to comply with their duties. Although the delivery context has changed, these duties remain current. The guidance will be particularly useful to local authorities, as they work with their local communities to plan future children's centre provision. The following sections of the guidance are particularly relevant:
•Section 5A of the Act: The duty to make sufficient provision of children's centres to meet local need, so far as is reasonably practicable – pages 7-8 of the guidance, which emphasises that local authorities should ensure universal access to children’s centres is achieved and all children and families can be reached effectively, especially the most deprived.
•Section 5D: The duty to consult before establishing, significantly changing or closing a children's centre – pages 15-18 of the guidance, which emphasises that local authorities should allow adequate time for responses, actively encourage parents from disadvantaged groups to participate, and demonstrate in their decision how they have taken consultation responses into account.
We are now working with a range of partners to develop a new shared vision for Early Years, which is to be published as a policy statement later in the year. In the meantime, please note that some parts of the statutory guidance do not reflect recently policy developments.