Health services are detached from some Sure Start outreach and home visiting schemes, latest findings warn.
The Sure Start national evaluation said that if midwifery and health visiting services continued to be excluded, programmes would be less likely to reach families who needed them.
The findings were released alongside updated government guidance on Sure Start children’s centres, which called for greater emphasis on outreach and home visiting.
Anne Longfield (pictured), chief executive of 4Children, said the evaluation showed that some Sure Start outreach services were fragmented, with a range of schemes operating from the same centre.
She said that, although the evaluation showed the importance of outreach for the most vulnerable families, it also demonstrated that the extent to which these services were offered was largely down to individual staff rather than embedded in Sure Start programmes.
“The government needs to address the lack of consistency in meeting the needs of the most disadvantaged and in particular build better links [between Sure Start] and social care and health services,” she added.
Cheryll Adams, professional officer at the Community Practitioners’ and Health Visitors’ Association, said the government’s Sure Start policy failed to reflect the reality of cuts in health visitor posts due to NHS deficits.
“There’s a contradiction between government policy and what’s happening at a community level; a huge contradiction,” she said.
The study also found that some Sure Start local programmes did not emphasise outreach and home visiting, citings reasons including cost and time pressures.
Power to the parents
A separate section of the evaluation, also published last week, found that local programmes were successfully empowering parents.
Steve Alexander, chief executive of the Pre-School Learning Alliance, said the findings made “good reading” even though they did not “wipe away” concerns that Sure Start could become less responsive to parents’ needs once it was mainstreamed within local authorities.
Empowerment in sure start local programmes
Outreach and Home visiting services in Sure Start local programmes