Sure Start chief fears government control could damage initiative

Just a month after the official launch of the new interdepartmental
Sure Start Unit, its director has expressed concern over the
effects of increased control from central government.

At a conference on modernising health visiting, Naomi Eisenstadt
said she feared that the ethos of local participation and ownership
that had been developed since Sure Start began in 1999 could be
ruined by involvement from the centre.

“The magic of Sure Start is local community participation and the
problem with central government is that they think local means
local government. It doesn’t – it means [at] street [level],” she

She added that the most difficult families would not be reached by
letter, but instead face-to-face by workers going into the
community trying to make contact.

Eisenstadt said it had been more difficult to organise meetings
since Sure Start had become the remit of a Cabinet subcommittee and
merged with Early Years and Childcare.

She said that, as a non-minister, she was not even officially
allowed to go to the meetings. Although an agreement had now been
reached allowing her to attend, this was only on the condition that
she did not speak.

Eisenstadt also used the conference, organised by Harrogate Centre
for Excellence in Health and Social Care, to highlight the
importance of keeping health on the Sure Start agenda. She said she
hoped having public health minister Hazel Blears as chairperson of
the subcommittee would help achieve this.

“Health is the one service that nobody feels uncomfortable about
using,” Eisenstadt said, pointing out that health services were
particularly useful for reaching people because they did not carry
any stigma.

Eisenstadt also acknowledged the problems associated with Sure
Start being an area-based initiative, as children who lived in
better off areas were not receiving Sure Start help.

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