As many as 1,000 Sure Start children's centres could have closed in the last eight years - double the amount estimated by the Government - new research has warned.
Official data from the Government shows 14% of centres have closed between August 2009 and October 2017. However, research by the Sutton Trust suggests this is a ‘big underestimate’ as there is no clear definition of a ‘children’s centre’ and data does not record closures announced locally.
The research reveals that as many as 1,000 Sure Start centres have closed since 2009 across the country, rather than the 509 recorded.
The Stop Start report, carried out by Oxford University academics, shows that many of the original centres have been converted to ‘linked sites’ which offer fewer services and are counted by some authorities but not by others.
The report identifies large regional variation in the extent of closures, creating a ‘postcode lottery’ of early years provision.
Professor Kathy Sylva, lead author of the report, said: ‘Our national survey of local authorities found wide variation in level of closures and in number of services on offer. This is all the more alarming in light of the government’s own evaluation of Sure Start showing many beneficial effects of children’s centre use on families.
‘At a time of increasing pressure on poor families with young children, there is an urgent need for evidence based services to support them.’
The Sutton Trust is calling on the Government to complete a review of the children’s centre programme, as well as maintaining a national register of children’s centres which establishes minimum levels of provision.
In response to the report, head of campaigns at Action for Children, Rossanna Trudgian, said: ‘This analysis provides yet more evidence that the government has turned its back on children's centres – lifeline services that support families who are struggling.
‘Our own research shows that council spending on early help services that are designed to spot signs of neglect and abuse early has fallen by 40% between 2010/11 and 2015/16, while the cost of crisis support has risen by 7% to £6.1bn.'