Sure Start’s ability to reach the most disadvantaged families could improve when it comes under local authority control, it was claimed this week.
Phil Osborne, head of Surrey Council’s early years and childcare 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, meant they were in a “better position” to ensure that Sure Start projects got to the hard to reach.
The national evaluation says the use of services by the less deprived may have left others 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.
And 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.