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Children's Centres (Crawley)

Volume 476: debated on Monday 19 May 2008

There are five designated children’s centres in Crawley, reaching 4,500 children. Over the next three years, there will be a further £28.8 million for what we expect to be a further 17 centres in West Sussex, including in Crawley.

I am deeply grateful for that response. Anyone who has stayed close to Sure Start centres will know about the fantastic work that has gone on in them. It was right to concentrate on the most needy children first. Now that the service is going to be universal, what steps can my right hon. Friend take to ensure that county councils do not plead poverty in the future and then fail to use that money for those children that desperately need it?

Of course we have enshrined in legislation the requirement that local authorities, along with other key partners like primary care trusts and Jobcentre Plus, provide integrated services on this model for children under five and their parents. I expect local authorities to abide by that legislation, but I also hope that they will do so enthusiastically, as there is no doubt from the feedback from those working in children’s centres and from the growing and measurable positive impacts on children and parents alike that this service was much needed. It is going to grow and I hope that it will have a positive benefit for every child in the country by 2010.

Does the Minister accept that in Crawley, in Staffordshire and everywhere else the best possible centre is the family? What is she doing as a Minister in a Department that carries that word in its title, to encourage families and not to institutionalise children, irrespective of their backgrounds?

I could not agree more with the hon. Gentleman, although—the Conservative party has recently recognised this, rather belatedly—some families want some support in bringing up their children. That is part of the services that children’s centres are providing. In particular, those in Crawley have developed an important standard of excellence in the services that they are developing for parents, including services for fathers, grandfathers and male carers, and talking toddlers groups—all those things that are helping parents with what in today’s society is perhaps the increasingly difficult job of bringing their children up well.