Councils to be paid to improve parenting skills

Dad and child Councils will be measured on how parenting is improved

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Councils which get more mothers breastfeeding and improve parenting skills are to get extra funds under a new government trial.

The councils in the scheme will have to improve outcomes for children through services offered by their children's centres.

Their performances will be measured against a range of central government targets.

Children's Minister Sarah Teather said councils should be reducing inequality.

Under the payment-by-results trial, the 26 councils in England involved will be measured against a range of targets on increasing children's readiness for school.

'Difficult decisions'

This will include narrowing the gap in attainment between rich and poor children under five, and increasing the take-up of free nursery places for disadvantaged two- and three-year-olds.

They will also have to improve the skills of parents identified as needing support to get the extra payments. If the scheme is successful it could be rolled out across England.

It is part of the government's aim to refocus Sure Start children's centres on the disadvantaged families they were originally set up to help.

Ms Teather said high-quality early years support could have a lasting impact on children's lives, and that the government was committed to maintaining a national network of Sure Start centres that helped families in greatest need.

"We understand that local authorities are facing difficult decisions. Our revised guidance makes clear that they should concentrate on improving outcomes for some of the most disadvantaged young people and families.

"It is about the quality of services to support children and families, particularly the most disadvantaged.

"I want our payment-by-results approach to incentivise local authorities to reduce inequality. It will reward local areas for targeting those who will benefit most from the excellent support children's centres can offer."

Centres redefined

The cash will be paid on top of council's Early Intervention Grant, which was itself subject to at least a 10% reduction in the government's comprehensive spending review in 2010.

The grant is intended for services to improve the lives and chances of children, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The plans are being announced on the day the Department for Education began a consultation on the changes to statutory guidance on Sure Start Children's Centre.

It comes after scores of children's centres around the country have been earmarked for closure and merger.

Under the new draft guidance, a children's centre has been redefined as a place where users can be directed towards certain services rather than providing them itself.

A children's centre may simply "provide advice and assistance on gaining access to services elsewhere" under the changes.

Councils are also being urged to look at a wider range of possible providers when commissioning the services.

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