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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 December, 2004, 18:22 GMT
Growth in 'wrap-around' nursery care
Children at children's centre
Ministers want more children's centres
The government has pledged to increase the number of children's centres from 600 to more than 3,500 by spring 2008, but what are they and what is the idea behind them?

Full-time dad Paul Senarski, says his local children's centre in Greenwich, south London, is a "Godsend".

"It's very important. It's a Godsend," he says.

His son attends the Robert Owen Children's Centre five mornings a week and his daughter will follow in January, when she will spend three mornings a week there.

There is plenty there for the children to do, from cooking and playing with toys, sand and other equipment to story-time - all good ingredients for early learning according to childcare experts.

"It frees me up to do the things I have to do. It's the only time of the day when I have time to myself, to do things around the house, and whatever needs to be done," says Paul.

"It's about time that they took childcare seriously."

Judith Stevenson, who runs the centre told BBC News the provision for children at the centre was excellent - but costly.

Paul Sonarski, father
"It's a Godsend," says Paul Sonarski
"If you are going to have quality provision, it takes money," she said.

"We are open 0800 - 1800, 40 weeks a year.

"Qualified teachers, qualified nursery nurses. If the Chancellor is going to roll that out, we're going to need to see more money," she said.

Centres like the Robert Owen were generally funded in deprived areas, to help parents who want to work and to improve children's early education.

They offer what the government calls "integrated childcare with early learning for young children", together with health services, family support and help in finding employment.

The first children's centres were designated in June 2003 and largely grew out of existing provision including nursery and primary schools. They are part of the government's drive for integrated family services.

A government spokeswoman said the centres would "build toward a long-term goal for a children's centre in every community and an end to children's poverty".


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