Children behave better and are more independent if they live in areas with Sure Start Children's Centres, according to an independent evaluation report published today.
Children behave better and are more independent if they live in areas with Sure Start Children's Centres, according to an independent evaluation report published today. Other findings show that parents have more positive parenting skills and provide a better home learning environment for their children, helping prepare children to do well at school and make the most of their talents.
The Sure Start Children?s Centre programme is based on the concept that providing integrated education, care, family support, health services and support with employment are key factors in determining good outcomes for children and their parents. The concept itself is not a new one, it is about building on existing good practice, rather than starting afresh.
Speaking at the first ever National Conference for Children's Centre leaders Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families Ed Balls welcomed the news that there are now almost 2,500 centres working with over two million children. But he acknowledged that there was more to do and pledged a package of measures to take the Sure Start work out into communities where it is needed most.
The package includes:
- An additional two outreach workers at each centre in the 1,500 most disadvantaged areas, as part of the overall funding for children's centres announced in August 2007.
- A review of practice on outreach work to clarify what makes good outreach work, with further training and development material and activities later this year.
- £7m (9.1 million euros) funding over the next 3 years to allow 5,000 practitioners to take up new training opportunities.
- New guidance to help centres work with black and minority ethnic families.
Secretary of State for Children Ed Balls said: "Our new department and the Children's Plan put families at the heart of everything we do - and Sure Start centres are the best way for us to help all families early on.
Parents, not the government bring up children
"Parents bring up children not the Government - and this research shows that Sure Start centres can help parents give their children the best start in life."
"I want to make sure all families can benefit - which is why we are putting in place a package of measures, backed up with funding and new outreach workers to reach out to the most disadvantaged families."
The outreach workers will provide effective home visiting and other support that can make a real difference to families who cannot or choose not to access services, providing important information and access to services such as childcare and family support.
Measures of impact
Also speaking at the conference Children's Minister Beverley Hughes said: "This independent report shows that Sure Start is beginning to have real and demonstrable benefits for the lives of children and families, helping improve parenting and lay the foundations for children's happiness, well being and future success.
"Sure Start was never an event. It is a journey - to transform local services for the under fives and their families. It is at the heart of our aspirations to give every child the best start, to reduce social inequality and end child poverty.
"These results are testimony to the commitment of all those working to bring alive the Sure Start vision and give us cause to be cautiously optimistic that Sure Start can make a real difference." Beverley Hughes also launched a new national network for Sure Start Children's Centre leaders, a communications toolkit and a brochure with a summary of services offered by centres.
The National Evaluation of Sure Start is based at the Institute for the Study of Children, Families & Social Issues, Birkbeck, University of London. The Executive Director, Professor Ted Melhuish said: "We have found that the impact of Sure Start Centres has improved.
"This probably reflects the improvements in the quality of services being delivered, children's greater exposure to the services and enhanced efforts to reach the most vulnerable." Research Director of the evaluation, Professor Jay Belsky, added that "These latest findings indicate that Government has responded thoughtfully to previous evidence, using research to inform social policy."
Bernadette Duffy, Manager of the Thomas Coram Sure Start Children's Centre in Camden, said: "It is great to see that the evidence from national research is now showing the difference children's centres can make.
"Over the last few years at Thomas Coram I think we have focused much more on what makes a real difference for children. The families who use the centre reflect our local community much more and most children have reached or exceeded expectations for their age when they leave us and transfer to primary school.
"For us it is about the centre provision complementing and supporting the home, it is about parents and practitioners working together to achieve the best for each and every child."
In addition, the evaluation shows that the positive impacts of Sure Start extended across all population sub groups including workless households, lone parent and teenage parent families. This is a significant improvement on the previous 2005 interim NESS report which found evidence of varied experiences for different groups.
The positive results are encouraging, given that other research shows that young children whose social development is enhanced, and whose family life is more nurturing and stimulating, perform better socially and academically as they grow up.
Sure Start is at the heart of the Government's transformation of services for children and families and the development of a new national network of provision for the under fives. It is also a key plank of our commitment to eradicate child poverty, tackle head on the effects of deprivation and unlocking the talents and abilities of every single child.
Sure Start Local Programmes (SSLPs) were set up between 1999 and 2003 in the most disadvantaged areas of the country. From 2003 onwards the Government began to introduce a universal programme of Sure Start Children's Centres, and by 2006 all SSLPs became children's centres.
There are now nearly 2,500 centres open, with almost two million families now benefiting from the range of services on offer. The core offer includes early learning and childcare, parenting advice, health services and help finding work or training.
The Government is committed to having 3,500 children's centres by 2010, one for every community, so that every child and family can benefit from the services on offer through Sure Start Children's Centres.