That’s the tentative conclusion from the latest evaluation of Sure Start local programmes, published at the end of July.The research says some “important changes” in areas with local programmes may be due to the Sure Start effect.
A big change is a fall in child poverty.
Child protection referrals and section 47 enquiries (children thought to have suffered or likely to suffer significant harm) are up – although not in the most deprived areas.
This and other findings indicate that the most disadvantantaged families are still not being reached, the report suggests.
Increased child protection activity may indicate that elusive goal – improved multi-agency collaboration – is happening, finds the report.
When other government initiatives – including Children’s Fund and health and education zones – are operating in Sure Start local programme areas, better outcomes appear to be even more likely, says the report.
“This may lead to greater inter-agency collaboration,” it concludes.
The research, part of an ongoing study, looks at how Sure Start local programme areas are changing and compares changes to trends in England. It analyses 260 programmes between 2000-01 and 2003-04, (rounds 1 to 4).
As of March 2004, the local programmes analysed had operated for an average of 38 months. Therefore any change identified is more likely to be “real change” rather than a “statistical blip,” states the report.
Families in Sure Start local programme areas are experiencing “less economic deprivation” than four years ago.
There is a “significant reduction” in children under 4 living in “workless” households totally dependent on benefits, which is “significantly greater” than overall reductions in child poverty in England.
“This may reflect the effort of Sure Start local programmes to provide parents with the skills necessary to enter employment, and efforts to provide more childcare provision for those wishing to work,” says the report.
Less children of all ages are living in households receiving income support, (the benefit indicates adults on low wages).
The rate of section 47 enquiries has “increased significantly” in Sure Start local programme areas, both for children under-5, and children under-16.
The rate for under-16s is “almost twice” that of the most comparable rate for England (under 18s) and has risen significantly more than in England.
However section 47 enquiries for children under five and numbers of children placed on the protection register both fell significantly in the most deprived areas. The research suggests that some of the most vulnerable children are not receiving the interventions required.
Earlier evaluation of Sure Start found the most disadvantaged families were
not being reached
Registrations on the child protection register in Sure Start local programme areas have also “increased significantly,” both for under-5s and under-16s, significantly more than in England for both age groups.
These results indicate that “greater contact with families and increased home-visiting may have enabled more families to be offered support when they are having problems coping with their children,” says the report.
Numbers of young children (aged 0 to 3) attending hospital for severe injuries have “decreased significantly” in Sure Start areas. This “may be related” to the increased social services activity outlined above, and of health and social services working together, the report states.
Previous research by the National Evaluation of Sure Start team has found significant increases in social services activity, particularly more referrals and section 47 enquiries.
Child protection referrals were lowest in areas with residents of Indian subcontinent origin. The results suggest less contact between these families and services, says the research. Whether this is related to extended families supporting themselves, or due to a lack of culturally relevant services is not known.
Sure Start evaluation and other research has shown that ethnic minority families, as well as teenage parents, fathers and parents of disabled children are often excluded, Kevin Woods, deputy manager of the Department for Education and Skills’ early childhood division, said in May 2006 at a Daycare Trust conference.
Births to mothers under 18 have not dropped significantly in Sure Start local programme areas.
Provision of childminders, out of school care and crèche places for children aged 0 to 7 have all increased significantly, both in Sure Start local programme areas, and in England.
Full day care provision has increased significantly in the least deprived Sure Start areas and decreased in ethnically diverse areas.
There have been “relatively few significant changes” in children’s health in Sure Start local programme areas.
Perinatal mortality (still births and deaths in the first week) significantly decreased in least deprived Sure Start areas. It increased significantly in areas with the most ethnic diversity.
Sure Start local programme areas have seen significant increases in violence, drug offences, and burglaries.
Changes in the characteristics of Sure Start local programme areas between 200/01 and 2003/04