Early results bring good cheer for local sure start schemes

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 evaluation, begun three years ago, sets out to look at the
impact of Sure Start programmes on families, children, parents and

One strand of the evaluation 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

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

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

Hodge 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.

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.

Other problems included the 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 summarises strands of research from the National
Evaluation of Sure Start local programmes.

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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