Lessons must be learnt from Sure Start failures

Frontline workers and managers involved in delivering the government’s children’s centres agenda must not repeat the mistakes made by local Sure Start programmes, officials warned this week.

Public health minister Caroline Flint told the annual Daycare Trust’s children’s centres conference in London it was crucial that lessons were learnt from Sure Start, and that children’s centres were neither created nor seen as the service-delivery solution for the whole community.

“What the evaluation told us was that, where that was happening with Sure Start, some of the most vulnerable people weren’t being reached,” she said. “That’s why creating children’s centres isn’t just about buildings.”

Flint suggested that children’s centres could learn from the way health centres had had to adapt their traditional ways of delivering services in order to reach the most excluded. “It is very important to recognise who is not coming into your buildings,” she said.

Kevin Woods, deputy manager of the early childhood division at the Department for Education and Skills, echoed Flint’s pleas, adding that the Sure Start evaluation and other research had shown that particular groups who were often excluded were teenage parents, parents of disabled children, black minority ethnic families, and fathers.

“It is important that we reach the most disadvantaged families in the community,” he insisted. “Not all local Sure Start programmes managed that. But others did, and we need to learn from those.”

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