Meg Wiggins et al. Social Science Research Unit, Institute of
Sure Start Plus successfully helps pregnant teenagers by providing
crisis emotional and practical support, but is not achieving many
of the “hard” targets set by the government, according to a
national evaluation of the pilot programme.
The Sure Start Plus National Evaluation, which reported last month,
finds that Sure Start Plus has been especially successful in
improving young women’s relationships with their own families, in
reducing domestic violence, in helping them access health services,
and in improving their housing.
But specific health objectives, such as increasing breast feeding
and reducing smoking, have not been achieved. Participation in
education has improved among under-16s, but not for older girls.
And very little work with young fathers has been possible.
The evaluation states that, overall, the programme is under
resourced. “More funds would have made it possible to have more
advisers and specialist staff which would have allowed for longer
engagement with young mothers, more work with young fathers, fewer
waiting lists, and more time to address long term health and
Sure Start Plus is part of the government’s teenage pregnancy
strategy. It is a pilot scheme at the moment, with programmes in 35
local authorities in England, and was funded initially for five
years, ending in 2006. Management of the scheme passed from the
Sure Start Unit to the Teenage Pregnancy Unit in 2003.
The evaluation finds that the programme’s cornerstone is the
one-to-one, holistic support provided by advisors. Many of the
programmes’ young clients are extremely isolated and vulnerable,
and said their advisor made a big difference to their lives.
Despite this common feature, there are otherwise wide differences
between different programmes. Some have a much more target-driven
approach than others. In others, advisors feel it is more important
to focus on supporting young women with the issues they themselves
are most concerned about. For example, it was felt that a pregnant
girl who was sleeping on a friend’s floor, or who was facing
domestic violence, was unlikely to give up smoking until her more
practical problems had been sorted out.
Some advisors also feel that young women who are not of compulsory
school age should have the same rights to choose to be full-time
mothers as older women.
Sure Start Plus projects that base their advisors in the education
sector have more success in reaching education targets.