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Putting a range of services to support children in need and their families in and around ‘Family Hubs’ could have the potential to transform their lives, reduce family breakdown and give children the best start in life – a new discussion paper by the Children’s Commissioner for England says.

At any one time there are about 390,000 children in need. These are children who are on social services’ radar and who are considered in need of services but who do not reach the threshold of ‘significant harm’ for local Children’s Services. Hundreds of thousands of children are growing up in destabilising and adverse home environments with poorer outcomes than peers.

The paper argues that a greater level of coordinated services is needed to support vulnerable families to overcome the problems they are facing, as well as helping to improve the life chances of children in need.

Children’s Centres already provide some joined up services but their remit could be widened, and many local authorities are already starting to do this Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England believes.

Family hubs would provide a range of services under one roof, including health, mental health, childcare and early years, parenting support, mentoring, as well as employment help. They also could be used to offer one point of contact for families to receive help – at little or no additional cost.

There are over 2,000 children’s centres in England which are currently providing support for young children and their families. Children’s centres have come under increasing pressure as a result of local authority budget reductions, with many reducing their services and operating hours.

Where the remit of children’s centres have been enhanced, such as on the Isle of Wight which has seen ‘Early Help Family Centres’ created, requiring no extra funding to set up, the signs are positive. Families can self-refer and more than half of families referred to the new service had improved scores within six months although further evaluation is necessary. The Isle of Wight is seeing a lower number of children entering care at later ages, and more children in need being placed on a plan to support them and their families.

The Commissioner is undertaking research over the coming year to increase understanding of children in need and how they can be better supported.

Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, said: “The social cost of missed opportunities to help children in need are high. We need to find better ways to coordinate support for this neglected group of children.

“I believe family hubs could be a way to do this at little or no additional cost, providing consistent support to them and their families. The Government has yet to announce its position on the future direction of children’s centres. The time is right for a transformation of the way we reach out and help families and children who may be struggling.”

The Commissioner’s discussion paper can be viewed here.

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