Early Findings from Sure Start

Sure Start is improving parents’ relationships with their
children, according to early findings from a
government-commissioned study of its flagship social exclusion

But there is also evidence that local programmes are struggling
to engage with all families in their target area.

The report summarises strands of research from the National
Evaluation of Sure Start local programmes, carried out by a team
from the Institute for the Study of Children, Families and Social
Issues at Birkbeck College, University of London. The evaluation,
which began three years ago, sets out to look at the impact of Sure
Start local programmes on families, children, parents and

A study of child development and family functioning found “one
modest but significant difference suggestive of a Sure Start effect
– specifically that mothers in SSLP areas were more likely to treat
their child in a warmer and more accepting manner than in
comparison areas”, said researchers.

There was also evidence of better child/family functioning in
some programmes as compared to areas awaiting Sure Start

Launching the research last week, children’s minister Margaret
Hodge admitted that it was too early to assess the overall national
impact of Sure Start on children’s learning and development but
added: “We are seeing some exciting results from individual local

The minister highlighted Canning Town Sure Start where between
60 per cent and 86 per cent of respondents agreed that it had
helped their children, improving their ability to play,
relationships with siblings or their behaviour. Between 52 per cent
and 88 per cent felt that the programme had improved their ability
to cope, their self esteem and their parenting skills.

At a project in Barnsley, children showed good progress in
language development, with 14 of the 20 children attaining levels
of understanding well above those of normal language

Results emerging from the national evaluation were more mixed,
however. Some local programmes had yet to reach all the families in
their areas, although they remained optimistic about doing so,
researchers found.

Other problems included that fact that programmes were seen as
being mostly for non-employed mothers and parents, a perception
reinforced by the “office hours” during which services were
available. Reaching employed parents and fathers proved

The evaluation also found that Sure Start programmes took longer
than expected to become established, on average taking between 24
and 36 months to offer their full range of services. Joint working
is still an issue for some programmes. The report found that
progress had been made but: “It is challenging and time-consuming
and there is still some way to go”.

The findings from various parts of the evaluation are being
published separately but will be drawn together in a more
comprehensive report to be launched later in the year.

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