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Bexley children's Sure Start services face cuts as uptake rises

PUBLISHED: 16:54 20 October 2010

Bexley Council Offices

Bexley Council Offices

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The uptake for children's centres is on the rise amid fears the services they provide could be curbed in the council's £30 million of spending cuts.

Bexley now has 16 Sure Start children’s centres after the latest opened at Hillsgrove Primary in Sidmouth Road, Welling, this autumn following new additions at Northumberland Heath Primary School, Wheelock Close, Erith, and Bedonwell Infants School in Bedonwell Road, Belvedere, this summer.

But Bexley council could be forced to make cuts to the service which provides childcare, education and health services to under-5s as well as parenting and health advice to their families, after it announced that £30million worth of cuts are set to hit the borough over three years.

A report for the council’s Children’s Services and Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee said: “The main issue facing Sure Start and Extended Services is the uncertainty of funding from central government in future years.”

To date children’s centres across Bexley have registered 8,941 children out of a target of 12,810 (69 per cent). The report read: “Attendance of parents and children in July 2010 was 3,665 individuals. 41.9 per cent of under-5s living in the most disadvantaged areas of the borough attended a children’s centre in the last six months.

There were particular improvements in reaching those in workless households and those with disabled children. The number of children living in a workless household is increasing at a slower rate in the established children’s centre areas than elsewhere in the borough.

“Childhood obesity at reception age is holding steady and there are further plans to tackle this.”

Bexley’s working tax credit uptake has increased from 13.8 per cent in 2004 to 22.5 per cent this year, well above its neighbours, which has been attributed to targeted work by children’s centre workers and the Family Information Service.

The report continues: “Children’s centres have established a Department for Education programme, working with the most deprived under two-year-olds in Bexley. This project has already benefited 186 two-year-olds in Bexley (offering up to 10 hours education and learning in a nursery or with a childminder), 65 per cent of whom live in the most deprived areas in Bexley.

“Although outcomes in the lowest 20 per cent are showing significant improvement, results in communication, language, and literacy are still particularly low for children in the lowest 20 per cent.”

This year, service workers aim to improve breastfeeding uptake and support the Healthy Schools project to tackle childhood obesity at the earliest stage.

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