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The National Evaluation of Sure Start

The National Evaluation of Sure Start: Does area-based early intervention work?

Jay Belsky
Jacqueline Barnes
Edward Melhuish
Copyright Date: 2007
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  • Book Info
    The National Evaluation of Sure Start
    Book Description:

    Sure Start Local Programmes (SSLPs) was a major strategic effort by New Labour towards ending child poverty. By changing the way services were delivered to children under four and their families, through targeting and empowering highly-deprived small geographic areas, SSLPs were intended to enhance child, family and community functioning. Following 5 years of systemic research exploring the efficacy and impact of this grand experiment, this book pulls together, in a single volume, the results of the extensive National Evaluation of Sure Start (NESS). The book reviews the history of policies pertaining to child health and well being which preceded and set the stage for Sure Start. It provides insight into how SSLPs were expected to function and how they actually operated, both in terms of their strengths, weaknesses and costs. The contributors examine the nature of the communities in which these programmes were situated and how they changed over time; present the early effects of SSLPs on children and families, with evidence highlighting some small beneficial effects and some small deleterious ones and extract specific features of SSLPs that contributed to whether individual programmes benefited children and families, providing a guide for the revision of programmes and policies. With a foreword from Naomi Eisdenstadt, former Director of the Sure Start Programme and concluding chapter by Prof. Sir Michael Rutter, member of the government's scientific advisory board overseeing NESS, this book provides an insightful critique of SSLP policy and NESS that will be of interest to students of child development, families and communities, as well as policymakers and policy scholars, local and national providers of services to children and families and evaluation specialists.

    eISBN: 978-1-84742-300-9
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-ii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. iii-iv)
  3. List of tables and figures
    (pp. v-vi)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. vii-xii)
    Naomi Eisenstadt

    I was delighted to be asked to write the foreword to this comprehensive story about Sure Start. There is considerable detail in the forthcoming chapters, so my particular contribution is a personal reflection on the beginnings of Sure Start and its subsequent development over the years, 1998-2006. The world of children’s services in England is unrecognisable from where we were in 1998 and as is common in social policy change, we quickly forget how much worse things were, and constantly consider how much better they could be. Things for young children and their parents are infinitely better than they were...

  5. List of abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiii)
  6. Notes on contributors
    (pp. xiv-xvi)
  7. Part One: The historical and policy context

    • ONE The policy background to Sure Start
      (pp. 3-22)
      Edward Melhuish and David Hall

      On May Day 1997 Labour won a landslide election victory, returning to power for the first time since 1979 with a 177-seat majority. The end of 18 years of successive Conservative governments represented an opportunity to change policies that would be seen to place the improvement of people’s lives at the centre of government strategy. On 6 May, Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, enacted a policy at the forefront of macroeconomic thinking by giving the Bank of England operational independence from the government, including freedom to set interest rates. One consequence of this change was that a number...

  8. Part Two: The local content of Sure Start Local Programmes

    • TWO Targeting deprived areas: the nature of the Sure Start Local Programme neighbourhoods
      (pp. 25-44)
      Jacqueline Barnes

      Communities and neighbourhoods are the places in which children develop. Sure Start was, in its inception, an area-based initiative with certain types of neighbourhoods as targets – those that were among the most disadvantaged with high concentrations of families with young children. Each Sure Start Local Programme (SSLP) was expected to focus on developing and enhancing services for residents of a relatively small, disadvantaged neighbourhood that would be defined locally. As Naomi Eisenstadt notes in the Foreword, SSLP areas were conceptualised in terms of ‘pram-pushing distances’ and partnership boards were encouraged to think of local need and to avoid pre-existing boundaries...

    • THREE The challenge of profiling communities
      (pp. 45-62)
      Martin Frost and Gillian Harper

      Most area-based initiatives (ABIs) – of which Sure Start Local Programmes (SSLPs) are a classic example – have needed to face the challenge of translating the concept of ‘deprived areas’ as targets for government intervention into actual boundaries ‘on the ground’. Chapter Two explained that, in the case of SSLPs, this responsibility was largely given to the local agencies who initiated the proposals for the establishment of SSLPs. They were required to identify local communities that contained a significant number of deprived families, had a degree of social coherence and contained a sufficient number of young children to make programmes viable (Glass,...

  9. Part Three: The implementation of Sure Start Local Programmes

    • FOUR The methodologies for the evaluation of complex interventions: an ongoing debate
      (pp. 65-78)
      Pamela Meadows

      The research design of the National Evaluation of Sure Start (NESS) presented many challenges. These challenges were not unique, and as this chapter shows, have been and continue to be faced by others. However, Sure Start Local Programmes (SSLPs) are both a social intervention and a complex one. There is as yet no firm consensus around the best methodologies to use to evaluate the outcomes either of social interventions or of those in which the details of the treatment can vary between individuals and may be unknown to the evaluator. The purpose of this chapter is to review some of...

    • FIVE Sure Start Local Programmes: an overview of the implementation task
      (pp. 79-96)
      Jane Tunstill and Debra Allnock

      Sure Start Local Programmes (SSLPs) have enjoyed one of the highest ever profiles of any UK government initiative concerning children and families. Such visibility carried both advantages and disadvantages and also affected the task of evaluation. While the main advantage was that SSLPs were, from the outset, of interest at the highest levels of government, this led to the major disadvantage: the short-term perspective often adopted by politicians in search of signs of its positive impact (Glass, 2006; Jack, 2006;) and, closely related, the attendant high level of publicity granted by commentators tosomealthough notallof the evaluation...

    • SIX Living with Sure Start: human experience of an early intervention programme
      (pp. 97-112)
      Angela Anning and Mog Ball

      The introduction of Sure Start Local Programmes (SSLPs) in 1999 presented a significant shift in the way family life with very young children was regarded by central government in the UK. Hitherto this had been largely a private space in which intervention was not a normal occurrence unless some crisis of health, child protection or family failure had occurred. The SSLP approach, however, was to be universal, proactive and preventative, to change the way service providers and others worked with families and the way parents in deprived communities reared young children.

      The intervention also reflected a general shift in conceptual...

    • SEVEN The costs and benefits of Sure Start Local Programmes
      (pp. 113-130)
      Pamela Meadows

      The cost-effectiveness evaluation of Sure Start Local Programmes (SSLPs) is integrated with the implementation, impact and local context components of the National Evaluation of Sure Start (NESS) (see Chapters Two, Five and Eight). This chapter discusses the underlying principles of economic evaluation of social interventions, and briefly considers the difference between cost-effectiveness evaluation and cost-benefit analysis. It goes on to describe the relationship between the NESS cost-effectiveness work and related aspects of the evaluation. Included are discussions about which costs should be taken into account in addition to the expenditure of SSLPs themselves and how they might be measured, an...

  10. Part Four: The impact of Sure Start Local Programmes

    • EIGHT Impact of Sure Start Local Programmes on children and families
      (pp. 133-154)
      Jay Belsky and Edward Melhuish

      Sure Start Local Programmes (SSLPs) were intended to break the intergenerational transmission of poverty, school failure and social exclusion by enhancing the life chances for children less than four years of age growing up in disadvantaged neighbourhoods. More importantly, they were intended to do so in a manner rather different from almost any other intervention undertaken in the western world. What made them so different was theirarea-basednature, withallchildren under four and their families living in a prescribed deprived area serving as the ‘targets’ of intervention. This resulted in the need for a distinct approach to evaluation,...

    • NINE Variation in Sure Start Local Programmes: consequences for children and families
      (pp. 155-172)
      Edward Melhuish, Jay Belsky, Angela Anning and Mog Ball

      Sure Start Local Programmes (SSLPs) were true community interventions (see Barnes et al, 2006), in that all children under four and their families in an area were ‘targets’ of intervention. As discussed in Chapter One, community control was emphasised and was to be exercised through local partnership management boards. These boards brought together all stakeholders in the community concerned with children (that is, health services, social services, education, the private sector, the voluntary sector and parents). The placing of almost complete control with the community meant that there was very little specification of how to provide services, only what they...

    • TEN How Sure Start Local Programme areas changed
      (pp. 173-194)
      Jacqueline Barnes

      The Local Context Analysis (LCA) team of the National Evaluation of Sure Start (NESS) had two main tasks, the first of which was discussed in Chapter Two and involved describing the areas in which Sure Start Local Programmes (SSLPs) were situated. The second task, the results of which are summarised in this chapter, was to document change over time in SSLP neighbourhoods, based on the boundaries originally specified when SSLPs were first implemented, between 1999 and 2002.¹ This task was considered of great importance because extent of change over timemightreflect a community-level impact of SSLPs, although it is...

  11. Part Five: Conclusion

    • ELEVEN Sure Start Local Programmes: an outsider’s perspective
      (pp. 197-210)
      Michael Rutter

      This volume provides a most valuable, thoughtful account of both the origins of Sure Start Local Programmes (SSLPs) and what they have achieved so far. My assignment was to provide an independent assessment of the initiative as a whole, insofar as it can be judged at this rather early stage. I approach that task wearing the hat of a clinician who has throughout his career been concerned with preventive and therapeutic interventions, that of an epidemiologist concerned with the study of risk and protective factors for psychological outcomes, and that of a methodologist concerned with the critical examination of the...

  12. Index
    (pp. 211-221)