GMB Calls For Sure Start Consultation As Councils Face Financial Crisis
The UK government needs to recognise the great work that sure start children’s centres do to give children the best possible start in life says GMB
GMB has backed a petition calling on the government to begin an urgent consultation on the future of Sure Start centres as council funding is slashed. The petition will run for 6 months until 3rd December 2016. (See notes for a link to the petition).
The Sure Start initiative was originally announced in 1998 with the aim of improving education, childcare, health and family support to ensure children have the best possible start in life. There are currently 2,677 Sure Start children’s centres in England with a further 705 sites open to families that provide Sure Start services.
In 2014, David Cameron made a commitment that no Sure start centres would close but that they would start a consultation process with regards to the programme’s future.
Colin Greer, GMB regional organiser, said “The UK government needs to recognise the great work that sure start children’s centres do to give children the best possible start in life.
It’s time these brutal budget cuts were reversed to make sure we’re there for the people who need help the most
GMB support this petition for consultation on Sure Start centres to ensure our children’s futures are protected.”
1 Link to the Sure Start consultation petition
2 Information on Sure Start Children’s centres
What happens in the first months and years in the life of a child will affect their social and emotional development, their educational attainment, their health and their future employment opportunities.
Overwhelming international evidence has shown the importance of these months and years in the development of a child’s brain. Early intervention, a set of policies supporting and enhancing parenting by building the social and emotional foundations children will need to reach their full potential, is pivotal in any strategy to assist vulnerable families and reduce poverty. Furthermore, acting early on in a child’s life will have significant economic benefits for the entire society. These will come in the form of reduced crime rates, higher educational attainment and future earnings, and a lower strain on the health care system. Sure Start Children’s Centres were set up by the Labour Government in the late ‘90s to support young children and their families in the most disadvantaged areas by providing early education, childcare, healthcare and family support services. Today over one million families regularly benefit from the support of Sure Start Centres. Studies conducted over the years by the National Evaluation of Sure Start have demonstrated their effectiveness over six outcomes:
– Sure Start Programmes and Centres improve parenting.
– Children in Sure Start areas exhibit better health.
– Parents provide more cognitively stimulating and less chaotic home learning environments.
– Children in Sure Start areas show better social behaviour.
– Sure Start Centres are effective in supporting disadvantaged families, with mothers reporting better levels of life satisfaction and families being more likely to move from worklessness into work.
– The effectiveness of Sure Start Centres has improved over time with increasingly better home learning environments, greater changes in positive life satisfaction for mothers and a greater decrease in workless household status.
Sure Start Children’s Centres have become community hubs and the demand for their services remains constantly high. Yet, the Centres have suffered severe cuts in their budgets, leading to hundreds of Centres being forced to close, merge with other Centres or stop providing fundamental services, such as childcare.
The earliest months and years of life lay the foundations for a child’s future. What happens during these months and years will significantly impact the social and emotional development of children, their educational attainment, their health and their future employment opportunities and earnings.
As recent studies have demonstrated Early Intervention, The Next Steps, 2011, when babies are born only 25 per cent of their brain is fully developed. In the next 36 months their brain will rapidly reach 80 per cent of its development.
Research conducted as part of the Millennium Cohort Study has shown that the development of children at only 22 months may accurately predict their educational attainment at age 26. Ibidem, 2011
The pivotal importance of giving every child the best start in life and of early intervention, a set of policies supporting and enhancing parenting by building the social and emotional foundations children will need to reach their full potential, have been the subject of many studies, reports, briefings and recommendations to the government. Among them, in the UK the first and second Allen Report Early Intervention, The Next Steps, 2011; Early Intervention: Smart Investments, Massive Savings, 2011, The Marmot Review Fair Society, Healthy Lives, 2010, The Tickell Review The Early Years: Foundations for Life, Health and Learning, 2011and The Munro Review Progress report: Moving Towards a Child Centred System, 2012 have been published in recent years.
The argument in favour of early intervention is also an eminently economic one. As the first Allen Report vigorously argues, “many of the costly and damaging social problems in society are created because we are not giving children the right type of support in their earliest years, when they should achieve their most rapid development” Early Intervention, The Next Steps, 2011:xii. In fact, early childhood interventions lower the rates of offending behaviours, particularly violent behaviours, thus decreasing the expenses that are linked to crime; they produce returns in the form of higher earnings when children reach adulthood, therefore producing more prosperous societies; they improve children’s health and promote healthy behaviours, reducing the future strain on the health care system.
The effectiveness of Sure Start Local Programmes and Children’s Centres
In 1999 the first Sure Start Local Programmes, the predecessors of Sure Start Children’s Centres, were established in the most disadvantaged areas in England to support young children and their families by providing childcare, early education, healthcare and family support. Today over one million families benefit from the services provided by Sure Start Centres. These Centres support two thirds of the most disadvantaged families in England, thus playing a key role in any strategy to assist vulnerable families and reduce poverty. Sure Start Children’s Centres Census, 2014
During the years, research produced by the National Evaluation of Sure Start (NESS) has investigated the impact of Sure Start Local Programmes, and subsequently Sure Start Children’s Centres. Longitudinal studies conducted by NESS have accompanied the development of this initiative. The research has, thus, influenced policy and helped Centres to improve their services and adjust their provision in order to enhance their effectiveness.
The National Evaluation has examined the outcomes of Sure Start Programmes on children and families at different ages of their lives. The studies have followed a group of over 5,000 families, living in areas where Sure Start Local Programmes and Centres were active, when children were 9 months, 3 years, 5 years and 7 years old, and compared them with children and families in similarly disadvantaged areas lacking Sure Start Programmes.
The Impact of Sure Start Local Programmes on Three Year Olds and Their Families, 2008; The impact of Sure Start Local Programmes on five year olds and their families, 2010; National Evaluation of Sure Start local programmes: an economic perspective, 2011; The impact of Sure Start Local Programmes on seven year olds and their families, 2012.
After adjusting for control variables, such as family and area specific characteristics, the studies showed some of the key effects of Sure Start Programmes:
1. Better parenting: The studies looking at the impact of Sure Start on 3, 5 and 7 year olds indicated less negative parenting in Sure Start areas. Parents reported providing a better and more cognitively stimulating home learning environment, a factor that is likely to improve further the outcomes of Sure Start on children when they are older.
2. Better health: All studies found that children in Sure Start areas were in better physical health. In fact, they had a lower body mass index (BMI) and were less likely to be overweight. Furthermore, children in Sure Start areas had higher immunisation rates and fewer accidental injuries than children in areas that were similar, but lacking a Sure Start Programme or Centre.
3. Better home environment: Parents of 5 and 7 year olds in Sure Start areas reported engaging in less harsh discipline and providing a less chaotic home environment. The aforementioned two outcomes, in particular, have a potential positive economic impact, as less harsh discipline and a less chaotic home environment are associated with lower likelihood of engaging in offending behaviours later in life.
4. Better social behaviour: The study investigating the impact of Sure Start Local Programmes on 3 year olds showed a better social development and a more positive social behaviour for children in Sure Start areas. This outcome was in itself the result of the benefits of Sure Start Programmes and Centres upon parenting.
5. Increased impact on vulnerable families: NESS studies found that Sure Start Programmes and Centres have become more effective over time in reaching vulnerable families. Studies conducted on 7 year olds and their families found that the particular subgroup of “hard to reach” families exhibited more positive effects. Indeed, mothers in vulnerable households (e.g. lone parents and workless households) reported having better levels of life satisfaction. In addition, a 2010 NESS study The impact of Sure Start Local Programmes on five year olds and their families, 2010 found that the families of children between the age of 9 months and 5 years were more likely to move from worklessness into work than families living in not Sure Start areas.
6. Positive effects over time: The studies undertaken by the NESS indicated a path of learning and improvement for Sure Start Children’s Centres. Progressing through the life of the children and families involved in the research, more positive effects have emerged in later studies, such as an enhanced improvement in home learning environments, a greater change in positive life satisfaction for mothers, a greater decrease in workless household status and in harsh discipline.
This indicates that the value of Sure Start Centres has improved during time, as well as their effectiveness and their ability to support “hard to reach” groups. Centres have, thus, learnt over time through research and experience and improved the quality and the organisation of the services provided.
The effect of cuts:
According to NESS’ 2012 study on the impact of Sure Start Local Programmes on 7 year olds and their families, “Children’s Centres have been found to be immensely popular with parents and, as demonstrated by this evidence, they have been successful in reaching the parents who are likely to be the most disadvantaged. The success of SSLPs in engaging and supporting the poorest families without stigma means they provide an infrastructure that is well placed to engage the most vulnerable groups and support them effectively. Also the beneficial effects for parents persist at least two years after their last contact with Sure Start Programmes; often social interventions do not have such a sustained impact and can suffer from ‘wash-out’.” The impact of Sure Start Local Programmes on seven year olds and their families, Executive Summary, 2012:7
Sure Start Children’s Centres are now community hubs and, as previously mentioned, the demand for services is still at record levels, with over one million families receiving the services they provide on a day-to-day basis. In fact, according to the 2014 Sure Start Children’s Centres Census, 53 per cent of the Centres identify “meeting the demand for services” as one of their biggest challenges. In every Children’s Centres Census undertaken by the charity 4Children in the last years pressures on budget and cuts have been described as a major issue for Centres across England.
The numbers collected in the 2014 census indicate that, after years of financial difficulties, Centres might be reaching a “tipping point” and over 100 Centres are expected to close by the end of 2015. The majority of Centres, indeed, expect a change in their budget and 81.9 per cent of them indicated they will have a decreased budget for the forthcoming year. Sure Start Children’s Centres Census, 2014 Furthermore, Children’s Centres are changing the type of services they offer, mostly due to cuts to their budget.
Changes in their budget will result in cutting back on a wide range of services that provide stimulating activities and core experiences supporting positive interaction for children and parents. In fact, the majority of Children’s Centres are operated by local authorities who have suffered severe cuts to their budget during the last years. In 2011 the coalition Government removed ring fenced funding for Sure Start Children’s Centres, with the result that, in the face of challenging overstretched budgets, local authorities are often not able to prioritise or maintain funding for Children’s Centres.