The Work of Family Information Services in England 2013/14
Successive governments have recognised that resilient and thriving families are at the heart of a prosperous and happy society. Factors that enable families to thrive include a decent income, time resources to be together, infrastructure such as housing and transport as well as high quality education and public services. This view underpins family policy and the development of services to support parents, carers and children. Such services may be universal or targeted at specific groups, and include children’s centres, nurseries, childminders, play, sports and arts activities for children, youth clubs, libraries and health services. But if parents and children are to benefit from the range of services available locally, they need to know about what is on offer. This information need has been recognised by the Government and today all local authorities in England have a Family Information Service with its duties enshrined in law.
Family Information Services typically answer telephone and email enquiries and sometimes provide face-to-face advice. They compile and update web-based information and also work with other professionals such as health visitors, children’s centre and Job Centre Plus staff to get advice and information to parents. In England, Family Information Services have been central to the delivery of free nursery education, as they match children who qualify for this provision to available places in nurseries. But in 2011 a survey undertaken by the Family and Childcare Trust1 showed that spending cuts, as well as changes to the way that local authorities deliver information, are jeopardising the quality of Family Information Services. In 2011 some 76 per cent of local authorities reduced their budgets for family information and a growing number of them were merging their Family Information Services into generic call centres (Daycare Trust, 2011). Since 2011 there have been further pressures on local authority budgets and changes to funding streams for children’s services. As the Family and Childcare Trust we have decided to carry out a new survey to capture the work of Family Information Services in England and in a separate report, Wales. We hope this research will be useful to policy makers in local and central government, and inform decisions about the future of Family Information Services.