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Organised activities, such as 'Stay and Play' sessions where parents and their children played and learned songs, were linked to small but significant reductions in parenting stress, improvements in mothers’ health, and better learning environments in the children's own homes.
Children's centres operate in disadvantaged neighbourhoods to provide a wide range of services tailored to local conditions and needs, but they are also intended to target the most vulnerable families. The Oxford study shows children’s centres with the best funding and staffing levels did reach families in ‘most need’ – the poorest households and families with dysfunctional parent-child relationships.
Centres appeared to be less effective at supporting unemployed parents into work and improving children’s health. The report shows that overall there were better outcomes for parents and families than for children as most centres do not provide childcare directly (in keeping with the government’s Department for Education guidance). Nonetheless, children who went to school-led centres did better at learning complex vocabulary; while those at centres supported by partner agencies increased their reasoning skills. The research also links improvements in children’s development (cognitive and social skills) with family use of childcare services, saying local childcare was signposted and promoted to disadvantaged families using children’s centres.