Targeting Children's Centre Services on the Most Needy Families

Caroline Sharp, Pippa Lord, Clare Southcott

08 December 2011

Executive Summary

While continuing to acknowledge the value of ‘universal’ services, The Government has asked children’s centres and local authorities to target services on the ‘most needy’ families. This research aimed to provide local authority early years’ and children’s services leaders, and children’s centre managers with evidence of how children’s centre services are targeting the most disadvantaged families. It involved a rapid review of research and policy, together with case studies in six English local authorities.

Key Findings

  • It is difficult to achieve a precise definition of families in the greatest need of support. Children’s centres tend to prioritise those facing multiple or severe challenges, parenting issues and children with additional needs or behaviour issues. But they were also responding to local priorities and individual needs.
  • Children’s centres identify families through analysing demographic data, sharing information with other services, reducing barriers for vulnerable families and encouraging them to engage with children’s centre staff.
  • The process of identifying such families is not straightforward. It depends on service providers working together, drawing together multiple sources of information and interpreting data intelligently to improve services and outcomes.
  • Practitioners see universal services as crucial to identifying children’s and families’ needs. They prefer to see their work as ‘supporting’ children, parents and families, rather than ‘targeting the most needy’.
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