Local authority control may help Sure Start reach the most deprived

Sure Start’s ability to reach the most disadvantaged families could improve when the programme comes under local authority control, it was claimed this week.

Phil Osborne, head of Surrey Council’s early years and child care service, made the comments after the national evaluation of the programme found that some of the most disadvantaged children and parents could be negatively affected by living in a Sure Start area.

Osborne said the “strategic role” of local authorities, which will take control of local programmes from April 2006, put them in a “better position” to ensure Sure Start projects reached the most deprived.

The national evaluation says the use of services by the less deprived may have left the most deprived with less access to services than would have been the case had they not lived in Sure Start areas.

The three-year-old children of teenage mothers scored lower on verbal ability and social competence and had more behavioural problems than their counterparts in non-Sure Start areas, the study finds.

It also says that three-year-olds whose mothers were lone parents or who lived in workless households scored lower in verbal ability.

Health-led programmes may have had more beneficial effects than others, researchers said, and the report recommends that health services should be fully integrated in the move from Sure Start local programmes to children’s centres.

But Cheryll Adams, professional officer at the Community Practitioners’ and Health Visitors’ Association, said possible cuts to health visiting services, arising from government plans to change commissioning in the NHS, would make this more difficult.

Another report from the national evaluation casts doubt on Sure Start’s focus on geographical areas. This could lead to the exclusion of needed services located just outside a programme’s boundary, it says.

But Sure Start has led to an increase in the range, number and type of early learning, play and child care services, a further report from the evaluation states.

Early Impacts of Sure Start Local Programmes on Children and Families and other reports from www.surestart.gov.uk/ness

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