Children's centres and beyond: understanding the changing face of integrated local early years support
EIF assistant director for policy and practice Ben Lewing highlights the work EIF will be doing on children's centres and other approaches to integrated early years support. The early years are a crucial period for children’s development. Our work is designed to support local leaders and commissioners to use evidence and best practice to guide their decisions improving early childhood services.
Over recent decades, children’s centres have provided an important local point for children and families to access a range of services and support. Today, in the wake of significant changes in the local public services landscape, there is massive diversity in how local areas deliver early childhood services, and what role children’s centres play. Some areas have retained a delivery model focused on a single centre, while others have focused on outreach across a range of community venues. Some areas have retained a discrete focus on maternity and the early years, while others have embedded this within a wider, all-ages ‘family hub’ approach.
Within this context, EIF has been commissioned by the Department for Education (DfE) to work with local areas to create a resource that uses research and practice learning to guide local authorities and their partners on designing effective early childhood services, including a strong focus on the development of language and communication skills. Early childhood services are defined in statute as early education and childcare, social services functions, health services, training and employment services, and information and advice services.
The DfE is seeking to support local authorities in strategic decision-making around the use of children’s centres in early intervention. To support this over the coming year, EIF will review the research and practice evidence for different delivery models or typologies of early childhood services that respond to the statutory requirements, and use this learning to guide local authorities and their partners in designing and delivering integrated early childhood services that suit their local context.
This work will include a rapid review of current practice, through both a review of the literature and qualitative field work; developing practical resources with local partners; and sharing our learning with leaders and commissioners of early childhood services.
The early years are a crucial period for children’s development. This work forms part of wider EIF work to support local areas to apply research or trial-based evidence to their local systems through careful planning and commissioning. This includes our work on early language and communication outcomes as part of the LGA Early Years Peer Challenges, and our partnership with five local areas in the Early Years Transformation Academy.
This project is designed to support local leaders and commissioners to use evidence and best practice to guide their decisions about improving early childhood services, including but not limited to children’s centres. In this way, our work may be relevant to any wider national policy review on the future of children’s centres, but does not, by itself, set out to conduct this kind of comprehensive review or consultation.