CHILDREN’S centres provide a crucial lifeline to families from disadvantaged areas, according to an Oxford University study.

The newly-published research claims centres across England have the power to boost vulnerable families.

It used interviews with 2,600 parents and 300 staff from more than 117 centres across England and studies of finances and staffing from 2011 to 2012.

It found that well-funded centres were successful in boosting children’s social skills and improving family functioning. Organised activities such as ‘Stay and Play’ sessions were found to be linked to reductions in parental stress, improvements in mothers’ health and better learning environments in new homes.

The most disadvantaged families were using children’s centres for an average of five months – or 38 hours in total. That is longer than those that were less in need and were also less likely to use other services.

Professor Kathy Sylva, from the university’s department of education, said: “Earlier research showed how popular centres are among residents in disadvantaged neighbourhoods. Preventative work with families can head off more serious problems that could otherwise put them on the lists of social welfare agencies.”

A consultation has been launched by Oxfordshire County Council on the closure of the county’s 44 children’s centres and seven early intervention hubs in order to save £8m. If plans are given the go-ahead, eight ‘Children and Family Centres’ would be created instead but without universal services available.