Publication Details

Melhuish, E., Belsky, J. & Barnes, J. (2010). Sure start and its evaluation in England. In R. E. Tremblay, R. G. Barr, R. D. Peters & M. Boivin (Eds.), Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development (pp. 1-7). Montreal, Canada: Centre of Excellence for Early Childhood Development.


In 1998 a U.K. government review concluded that disadvantage among young children was increasing and early intervention could alleviate poor outcomes. It recommended a change in service design and delivery, integrating across all relevant agencies, to be area-based, with all children under five and their families as clients. Among the aims were avoiding the stigmatization often associated with targeted programs while fostering child, family and community functioning. From 1999 the first Sure Start Local Programmes (SSLPs) focused on the 20% most deprived areas, including about half of children living below the official poverty line. Sure Start has evolved over time and, while it has the same aims, it has become a more coherent program (children's centres) with increasing emphasis on service integration. By 2002, 250 SSLPs were planned, aiming to support 18% of poor children in England under five. A typical program included 800 under-fives. Community control was exercised through local partnership boards, including health, education, social services, private and voluntary sectors, and parents. Until 2006 funding was directly to individual programs, which were independent of local government. While evidence from early interventions with unambiguous protocols were used to justify SSLPs, they did not have a prescribed "protocol." All were expected to provide: (1) outreach and home visiting; (2) support for families and parents; (3) support for good quality play, learning and childcare experiences for children; (4) primary and community health care and advice about child health and development and family health; and (5) support for people with special needs, but without specific guidance as to how. The speed and amount of funding was often overwhelming in a sector previously starved of support. Only 6% of the 1999 allocation was spent in that year. Despite this slow start, and without any information on progress, the Treasury expanded SSLPs from 250 programmes in 2002 to over 500 by 2004. Thus SSLPs became a cornerstone of the campaign to reduce child poverty.