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Early-years shops 'save money'

EARLY excellence centres could help prevent family breakdowns and generate massive savings in long-term social costs, according to new research. Twenty nine centres have been established around the country, writes Julie Henry.

The Government intends them to be "one-stop-shops" providing care and education for babies and children and support for their families.

Preliminary research by University College Worcester shows for every pound;1 invested in early excellence centres, pound;8 is saved on alternative services such as foster care and counselling.

The Government-commissioned research found that centres were ideally placed to break cycles of deprivation. It said that: Early help for special needs children increased their chances of being successfully educated in a mainstream school. Nearly pound;7,000 can be saved by educating a special needs pupil in a mainstream setting.

Early excellence centres established at nurseries were able to offer longer hours and a greater range of services at o extra cost. Centres also saved money by going out into the community. The cost of their outreach services was 60 per cent less than the cost of alternative services.

There was also evidence to suggest that some of the centres were successful in targeting those groups most in need, particularly in helping family members aged 21 to 45 to find work.

Margaret Hodge, minister for employment and equal opportunities, said: "The research shows integrated, high-quality services benefit children and families while at the same time saving the taxpayer money.

"Early excellence centres are a breath of fresh air. The impact they have on families is amazing. That is why we want early excellence centres to work with early-years development and childcare partnerships and other early-years providers to help raise standards and develop local services."

The study looked at centres in Coventry, Haringey, Northamptonshire, Northumberland, Oxfordshire, Portsmouth, Somerset and Wirral.

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