Children’s Centres are pivotal in cementing the early years and for providing families with services.

As a professional working in the foundation years you will be aware that there is an expectation that children’s centres, rooted in their local community, will not only provide a range of integrated services to meet the needs of the community they serve. They also have a role to play in bringing together all professionals who work in the area; to learn from each other’s expertise; and provide integrated support and extra help as required to families.

Your voice is important as you develop systems and structures which will truly place Children’s Centres at the heart of supporting children, families and communities in the foundation years.


Statutory guidance

Statutory guidance for Children’s Centres was published by the Department for Education on 15 April.

This guidance replaces existing Sure Start children’s centres statutory guidance. It:

  • clarifies what local authorities and statutory partners must do because it is required by legislation, and what local authorities and partners should do when fulfilling their statutory responsibilities
  • focuses on outcomes for children (the core purpose of children’s centres)
  • clarifies the duty to secure sufficient children’s centres accessible to all families with young children, and targeted evidence-based interventions for those families in greatest need of support
  • promotes the greater involvement of organisations in the running of children’s centres with a track record of supporting families

The core purpose of Children’s Centres

Children’s Centres should have a clear core purpose, focused on improving outcomes for young children and their families, with a particular focus on the most disadvantaged families, in order to reduce inequalities in child development and school readiness.

This should be supported by improved:

  • Parenting aspirations, self-esteem and parenting skills; and
  • Child and family health and life chances.

Sector leaders have worked together to consider what children’s centres can do to achieve the core purpose, including:

  • Assessing need across the local community
  • Providing access to universal early years services in the local area, including high quality and affordable early years education and childcare
  • Providing access to targeted evidence based, family-centred support
  • Acting as a hub for the local community, building social capital and cohesion
  • Sharing expertise with other early years settings to improve quality.

Multi-agency working

The important role that children’s centres play in providing effective multi-agency working is widely recognised.

Children’s centre outreach and family support are a key source of early intervention. Health visitors, social workers, early years practitioners and other early years professionals need to work together to support the most vulnerable families.

Every children’s centre should have access to a named health visitor who, as a minimum, will provide advice and run services through the children’s centre.

Children’s centres should also have access to a named social worker. This will help to build the confidence of children’s centres to deal with child protection issues, as well as support our focus on early intervention.

Registering births at children’s centres

Children’s centres can work with their local register officer to register births.

Reports released by the All Party Parliamentary Sure Start Group outlines how children’s centres can take an active role in working with their local register officer to register births. The material includes a simple guide as to how to go about registering births in children’s centres and fuller information on the benefits.


Leadership and management

Leadership and management of children’s centres is a key factor to effective local services. As children’s centres evolve to become an embedded offer to parents within their local area, more responsibilities will be placed on leaders as they respond to: greater local responsibility, new models of accountability, sharing practice and expertise across the locality to improve quality, and acting as the local hub for the community.

Effective leaders need to:

  • Be inspirational and innovative in their vision for their centre
  • Be responsive to their families’ needs and engaging with all families in their community
  • Be focused on evidence based results and outcomes
  • Facilitate open communication with all professionals, agencies and the community
  • Champion integrated working and the sharing of expertise across professionals
  • Be motivational and empowering
  • Be reflective and committed to their own ongoing professional development.

Good practice in children’s centres

The Local Government Association (LGA) published a report Bright futures: local children, local approaches in which a plethora of case studies show how councils are using children’s centres to help deliver early intervention through integrated health provision and getting children school-ready, to a more formal community budget approach. The important role that children’s centres play in providing effective multi-agency working is widely recognised.

Outreach and family support

Children’s centre outreach and family support are a key source of early intervention. Health visitors, social workers, early years practitioners and other early years professionals need to work together to support the most vulnerable families.

Every children’s centre should have access to a named health visitor who, as a minimum, will provide advice and run services through the children’s centre.

Children’s centres should also have access to a named social worker. This will help to build the confidence of children’s centres to deal with child protection issues, as well as support our focus on early intervention.


Case Studies

Ann Tayler Children’s Centre
Steps into Music – An Early Years Music Project for Sound Connections
This project looked to provide Music and Movements sessions for children under 5 and their parents and worked as a way of engaging often difficult to reach groups.

Holme Wood Children’s Centre
The SEADlings programme focused on language and communication development and was run by The Language and Development Team across three Sure Start Children’s Centres. A module with a particular focus on the areas of social and emotional development was developed in response to development gaps noticed between nursery intake children and those without any form of experience with peers outside the home.

The Nurture Setting – Growing our Own Achievers
St Cuthbert’s Children’s Centre is a phase one centre situated in the south of Blackpool in Lancashire. The town is ranked as the seventh most deprived in the country. The children’s centre has a strong ethos on community development and empowerment. It has 70% of staff who started off as volunteers who were unqualified and have now successfully gone on to complete childcare qualifications in level 3 and five members of staff have completed early years foundation degrees. The nurture environment enables volunteers to learn new skills, gain qualifications and put theory into practice whilst they are working in the centre.