Fighting to keep Wigan Sure Start centres going

Youngsters from Sure Start Westfield Childrens Centre who entered a competition to design a logo for it last year
Youngsters from Sure Start Westfield Childrens Centre who entered a competition to design a logo for it last year

Almost 100 children are no longer benefiting from access to Sure Start Centres in Wigan, 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 three per cent drop in the number of children and young people under 18 using Sure Start centres in Wigan 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 20 centres in Wigan – five of them dedicated children’s centres and 15 so-called linked sites, which Action for Children says offer fewer services than a full centre.

Wigan Council recorded 12,387 children accessing services in its centres in 2017-18, down from 12,786 in 2014-15.

Over the same period, the council’s expenditure on Sure Start centres fell by 40 per cent in real terms, to £2.82m 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.”

Children’s services chief James Winterbottom said: “Wigan Council prioritise supporting our families so that every child can have the best possible start in life. Whilst many areas have closed Children’s Centres we have continued to invest in them despite having had our budget cut by central government by almost 50 per cent.

Despite having to spend £140m less every year on vital public services more than 12,000 children are still accessing vital services in our centres which shows our commitment to ensuring children and families receive the help they need.

And we can see the impact of this investment with the fastest rising levels of school readiness in Greater Manchester. The amazing links to community services mean we reach more young people not captured in that data. We now provide significantly more targeted Early Help, meaning we are more confident than we were that families needing support get it.”