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A sure start.

The breakdown of communities has been blamed for many of society's evils from poor educational achievement to drug abuse and rising crime rates.

Children centres represent an attempt to put some cohesion back into communities.

In some respects they have an artificiality about them: bricks and mortar and professionals seeking to replace uncles, aunties and grandparents.

There is always a danger in initiatives like this ending up a huge drain on public funds that do little more than provide jobs for "key workers" and money for equipment.

What use is a bright and well-stocked building stuffed full of professional workers to the struggling parent if they don't access its services?

Questions have to be asked as to whether this is the best way to help such people. Maybe the money might be better spent on providing other local infrastructure - parks, good shops, transport, sports facilities.

The Government is funding a massive roll-out of children centres. It believes they will help parents to give their children a better start in life.

Exactly what they are, however, can be a little bit difficult to grasp - unless you're a professional earning your living from one.

They are an extension of the Sure Start programme. But that's just Government gobbledegook.

They offer nursery provision, but are much more than that. They aim to be a one-stop shop for other health and social support. A meeting place for parents. Coffee shop. Learning centre.

Ministers believe they work - they highlight evidence from America, a place the current Government seems to gain much of its policy inspiration from.

The proof will be in the pudding. This particular drive may well find its place in the heart and minds of communities.

On the other hand, they may end up an expensive waste of public money.
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Title Annotation:Leaders
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Sep 9, 2006
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