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Children’s Centres

Volume 520: debated on Monday 20 December 2010

The early-intervention grant contains enough money to maintain the network of Sure Start children’s centres so that they are accessible to all and supporting families in greatest need. Local services, including outreach, family support and health have a critical role in linking new families to centres that use evidenced-based programmes. The Department of Health will shortly provide more detail on its plans to recruit 4,200 extra health visitors to provide increased support to all families.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the most profound impact on a baby’s life is its earliest relationship with its parents or carers, and that the best thing that Sure Start children’s centres can do is to provide support for those new parents in forming those relationships that will lead to lifelong mental health?

I absolutely agree. That is why the Government are committed to recruiting so many new health visitors. It is also why we have doubled the family nurse partnership programme, which particularly supports very young families who are vulnerable and has been shown to have a dramatic impact on child development and that bond between parents and child.

Does the hon. Lady agree that cutting the money provided to Sure Start children’s centres can hardly be a good idea? Is it not a fact that the budget is shrinking, and that the budget for the new health visitors will come out of that for the children’s centres? That means an overall decline in the amount of money.

No, that is not true. The early-intervention grant is a substantial, flexible grant that contains more than enough money to maintain the network of Sure Start children’s centres. It is a deliberately flexible grant because we want local authorities to think innovatively about the way in which they link services together. I want them to use the assets that are children’s centres. I want them to make sure, for example, that they are providing family support in children’s centres and perhaps providing services for older children where that is appropriate. The flexible grant, which is larger than that for Sure Start, should allow them to do that.

How will the work of the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) on the foundation years—improving life chances for disadvantaged children—help to inform my hon. Friend’s approach to the early years?

The report by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) is an extremely useful contribution to the debate, especially given his focus on prioritising early years, which supports the work that the Government are already doing to make sure that we are investing particularly in a free entitlement for two-year-olds, which will become statutory by 2013. We are also taking forward the work that he did on life chances indices, which will support the wider work of the Government on child poverty.