Sure Start ‘vital’ for under-fives

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SHEFFIELD’S network of Sure Start centres will continue to be at the heart of services for the city’s under fives – despite financial pressures.

Other cities have been forced to close some centres due to the loss of central government grants, but in Sheffield across-the-board funding cuts of 15 per cent are being proposed instead.

A new strategy for under-fives recommends bringing together all services for young children and families through Sure Start centres and the areas they cover.

It calls for health, social care and education professionals to work more closely together to provide more integrated services to families.

The new ways of working are expected to be developed over the next two years.

The strategy is designed to ensure the city’s most vulnerable children in particular are getting the best possible start to life.

The Sure Start centres are seen as vital in the early identification of children with special needs.

They provide these youngsters both with the childcare and the early education they need.

To ensure best value for money, new Partnership Groups will monitor and review activities at the centres, challenging their performance and how they spend their funding allocation.

Government spending plans for the next four years guarantee children aged three and four will continue to receive 15 hours of free education and that this will also be extended to disadvantaged two-year-olds.

Spending on under-fives will be given a high priority but ministers want to see services focused on disadvantaged children and families.

Childcare charges for better-off parents could increase as a consequence.

A council report says work is now under way to identify true costs of services, reduce duplication and improve financial management and efficiency.