The study is the first of its kind to follow children who had access to Sure Start services – including family health and early years care and education – right through to the end of primary school.
It found the programme significantly reduced hospitalisations among children by the time they finished primary school. At every age in primary school, Sure Start reduced hospital admissions for injuries, the IFS said.
It found spending on Sure Start peaked at £1.8 billion a year in 2010 (at current prices) but has been cut by two-thirds since. Between 2011 and 2017, more than 500 Sure Start sites were closed.
Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “Children’s centres can provide a lifeline for children, parents and carers, offering an incredibly important service in the local community.
“This could be anything from advice for parents on physical and mental health, caring for a newborn, or simply a place for children to enjoy free play and interact with one another.
“While many councils have adapted well to the funding pressures and changed how they provide children’s centre services – in particular to target those communities most in need of support – there is a growing sense that councils have done all they can within ever tightening budgets.
“It is inevitable that without new investment from government in children’s services, councils will face the difficult but unavoidable decision of having to cut or close early help services such as children’s centres.
“Children’s services face a £3.1 billion funding gap by 2025. This is why it is hugely important that the Government delivers a long-term sustainable funding solution for children’s services in this year’s Spending Review.”