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A predictably dishonest attackon Hammersmith and Fulham Council in The Mirror over plans for Sure Start Children's Centres. It claims that most of the borough's 15 Centres will be "axed" – in fact the plan is for them to continue but not for them all to be directly run by the Council.

Thos interested in reading what is actually proposed (rather than relying on a distorted Mirror) can read them here.

The report says:

At present H&F has a network of 15 children’s centres, providing a wide range of support from universal provision through to targeted support for the most vulnerable families (tier 4). Although these are clearly popular with families, and seem likely to have some preventive impact, we have much less clear evidence about the degree of impact this has – including on the ultimate number of children falling into child protection.

Although early studies showed no clear evidence of impact on early school results, overall Sure Start seems to have had a positive impact especially on parenting and social behaviour for 3 year olds.

The Effective Provision of Pre-School Education Project (EPPE) examines the effect of preschool education for three and four year olds on children’s development at key ages. EPPE found that involvement in high quality early years education from age two onwards can lead to better educational and social outcomes for all children. It is also the case that Children’s Centres fill a gap in universal provision for 0-5 year olds who will not be in school, or who have not taken up any other early years provision through schools or private sector.

They provide the opportunity for a layer of preventive intervention, as opposed to reactive targeted intervention. They have become integral to the delivery of a wide range of services – midwifery, parenting programmes, obesity services, etc. we have begun to link them with primary care through health visiting and GPs.

We are looking at options to restructure this provision in line with the likely levels of efficiency and grant reductions expected, whilst targeting the remaining provision more closely on vulnerable families, so as to reduce the impact as much as possible. In doing so we will take account of need in each part of the borough, as well as reasonable travelling distance to access support, aiming to retain full borough coverage. This is in line with the Coalition commitment to refocus Sure Start “on its original purpose of improving the life chances of disadvantaged children.”

However, it is not likely under this scenario that LBHF could continue to directly fund more than 6 Children’s centre teams. In any case we would no longer seek to directly run centres but would contract out provision either to schools or private sector providers. Several centres are already attached to or run by schools and we expect that many would in any case wish to continue making some provision for children (eg after school clubs) at these centres. Depending on the terms of any grant funding, we will seek to maintain a full wider network of outlets, on a ‘hub and spoke’ model. We aim to maintain some provision at most centres, through small amounts of pumppriming funding. A separate briefing paper to Cabinet will expand on these proposals.

The nature of the service provided at the remaining centres will need to be better targeted on vulnerable families. Support to the most vulnerable will be subsumed into the new locality teams. A public consultation on these proposals is planned to commence in January. The loss of more significant grant levels would require a more drastic level of reduction in provision. The remaining children’s centres could provide a drop-in hotdesking base of operations for locality teams, and be the main provider of eg parenting sessions for the client group.

In the election Labour claimed that the Conservatives would abolish Sure Start. This claim has now been shown to be a lie. But the Conservatives did not say that Sure Start would be left unchanged. The manifesto said:

We will take Sure Start back to its original purpose of early intervention, increase its focus on the neediest families, and better involve organisations with a track record in supporting families.

This is the approach that is being followed.

The Mirror also mentions proposals for the closure of Dalling Road Children's Home. Readers are left to assume that children currently cared for there will be put out on the streets.

They don't mention the strong evidence that children are better off brought up as part of a loving family (foster carers or ideally being adopted) rather than institutional care where at all possible. Nor dothey acknowledge the astonishing cost of over a quarter of a million pounds a year for each child from the borough placed in the Dalling Road Children's Home. Nor do they acknowledge that as provision is short/medium term that the report says: "In the event that the decision is made to close the home, this would be undertaken within a timescale that ensured this process did not undermine the care plans of the young people."

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