You are on the Natcen site

Click here for Scotcen

natcen map

You are on the Natcen site

Click here for Scotcen

natcen map

NatCen study examines how families use children’s centres

25 June 2015 | Tags: children and young people, childcare, child minders, families, early years education, education

- Higher use of children’s centres among disadvantaged families - Use declines as children get older


A longitudinal survey of families using children’s centres in England’s most disadvantaged areas has been published today by NatCen Social Research.

The research, part of the Evaluation of Children’s Centres in England (ECCE) funded by the Department for Education, gives a new insight into the use of children’s centres, showing that families use them less as their children get older.

Even though children’s centres are targeted at families with children under five, around a third fewer families (54%) used children’s centres when their child was aged three, compared with when their child was one (85%).

The survey also reveals that non-working families and parents with poor mental well-being used more services than other families, while more affluent families were most likely to stop using children’s centres as their children got older.

There was some evidence that recent policy changes could explain why more affluent families were using children’s centres less.

Emily Tanner, Head of Children, Families and Work at NatCen Social Research said: “This survey has provided us with an important insight into the way families are using children’s centres and how this changes as their children get older. It also gives an idea of how recent policy changes have affected the services offered. Since the survey began policy changes have shifted the focus of children’s centres towards more disadvantaged families. This may be one explanation for why we see more affluent families using children’s centres less over time.”

Researchers also explored which services offered by children’s centres were used most, showing considerable variation: 

  • Some services were used by more than half of families; around 60% of families used play and learning groups, while 58% took advantage of midwife or health visitor sessions.
  • At the other end of the spectrum, some children's centre services were used by relatively few people; only 1% of families used relationship support, 2% used a psychologist or counsellor and 2% attended a basic IT or jobs skills course.

The report on how families use children’s centres is being published alongside other ECCE reports, including a follow-up survey of children’s centre leaders, which looked at how children’s centres have changed in recent years.

The survey revealed how children’s centres have responded to the changing policy environment including a move towards greater clustering of children’s centres, increased targeting of services on families with the greatest needs and staff reductions.

A report looking at the impact of children’s centres on outcomes for children and families will be published later in 2015.


The reports are available here:

Contact: Leigh Marshall 02075498506 or 07828031850

Notes to Editors.

The Evaluation of Children’s Centres in England (ECCE) is a six year study commissioned by the Department for Education and carried out by NatCen Social Research, the University of Oxford and Frontier Economics.

At NatCen Social Research we believe that social research has the power to make life better. By really understanding the complexity of people's lives and what they think about the issues that affect them, we give the public a powerful and influential role in shaping services that can make a difference to everyone. And as an independent, not for profit organization we're able to focus our time and energy on meeting our clients' needs and delivering social research that works for society. Find out about the work we do by visiting