Report review: 21st Century Children Centres

| Helen Sharp

Published byInnovation Unit

Date of publication – 2013

“Instead of defining families as hard to reach, Children Centres have recognised that it is sometimes their own services that are unreachable.”

As commissioner in Early Years, I had a dream… That all the untapped talents, passions and gifts of parents would be unleashed through Children Centres basing their entire offer on a timebanking system. That through this platform, Children Centres would become communities in their own right, connecting parents to each other and bringing out the best in them. This dream has not yet been realised, but one of the little known reports which helped me hold on to my vision was this one. I refer to this report as ‘little known’ because it certainly wasn’t shouted about in my Early Years department, unlike Ofsted frameworks and other rigid, statutory guidance.

“It is the right time to be asking some fundamental questions about Children Centres and their future.”

The Innovation Unit set up five think tanks of outstanding practitioners in the field and posed a fundamental question to each. Among other things, the findings strongly recommend that co-production and community building should be a core purpose of every Children Centre; that they have a crucial and underestimated role in building relationships and social networks and linking communities of interest.

Bits I love from this report are:

  • An excellent set of principles for successful and sustained engagement with parents created by some of the more innovative Children Centres (page 11).
  • The recommendation that all staff in a Children Centre should have expertise and experience in community development, including community engagement, consultation and co-production (page 17).
  • That Children Centres need to become cleverer at understanding the ‘fine grain’ of the community around them – not all Dads would benefit from a Saturday morning Fathers’ Group, not all single parents are vulnerable and struggling (page 18).
  • A ready-made business case for using co-production throughout the Early Years sector because the evidence shows that the parents’ role as the child’s educator is fundamental to their intellectual and social development (page 30).

My only gripe with the report is it doesn’t go far enough in its vision for parental involvement, highlighting parents who take on volunteering roles rather than every parent as a contributor and there’s no mention of the timebanking potential! But it’s a great start for us working in a sector which often finds it hard to contemplate parents taking over the services.

Read the full report here.

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