Unsure Start For Sure Start?
The idea of ‘joined up’ services and support for babies and young children and their carers is excellent. The delivery is of course more complex. Sure Start may not as yet be a complete or fully accessed programme, but it is already showing us ways forward which hold promise for the future.
Sure Start’s a great idea. It’s intended to bring together all the support and services required by parents and carers of young children (up to their fourth birthday), so that those perhaps otherwise at risk will be able to flourish alongside their more fortunate classmates-to-be.
A National Evaluation of Sure Start report out this week from Birkbeck College, London, suggests however that at best the impact of Sure Start so far is ‘patchy’. Well, just three years from inception, I’d be rather surprised if it were anything else.
This, of course, is also what the evaluators say. Sure Start is a programme to reverse unconstructive or unfocused cultural patterns of behaviour which have sometimes now been embedded for decades. This is quite a challenge; and at present the programme still struggles to reach some of its target ‘audience’.
It may feel difficult to say this so starkly, but children may have very little chance unless they are offered more care and encouragement than some parents and carers can give. Fortunately, the very large majority of parents love their children; but that, without a synergy between positive examples of how to conduct onesself in adulthood and the opportunities to do so, is a tough call. This I think is what the evaluators are seeing thus far.
Tying future prospects into current contexts
It’s not just provision for small children which is on the agenda here. There’s also the whole question of how adults with the care of these children perceive and respond to their own world.
The message is not necessarily that new mothers (or indeed fathers) need to work full-time right now, but rather that they need to feel engaged in and connected with their communities and the opportunities which are there and on offer – whether joined up services, voluntary and social activities, education and training or whatever else.
Adults who themselves thrive in the world they inhabit are also adults who can care more confidently for their children. If we can help those currently engaged in caring for their young children to see a promising and potentially more prosperous future, then surely these adults will be more comfortably able to enjoy and nurture their small charges now.