Publication Details

NESS Research Team (2004). The impact of Sure Start local programmes on child development and family functioning: A report on preliminary findings. Nottingham, United Kingdom: Department for Education and Skills.


A principal goal of Sure Start Local Programmes (SSLPs) is to enhance the functioning of children and families by improving services provided in the local programme areas. As a first step in assessing the impact of SSLPs on child and family functioning, the Impact module of the National Evaluation of Sure Start (NESS) is studying 9- and 36-month old children and their families in 150 SSLP areas and in 50 comparison communities (i.e. areas designated to become SSLP later). In 2003, home visits were carried out in more than 8000 families in the first 75 SSLP areas and 3000 families in 50 comparison, Sure- Start-to-be communities. Data from the home visits were used to analyse the effect of SSLPs on a wide range of child, parenting, and family measures. These analyses revealed only one significant difference suggestive of a SSLP effect after taking into consideration a host of background factors that might make children and families in SSLP areas and in the comparison communities different from each other in the first place: Specifically, in SSLP areas, mothers/principal carers were observed to treat the child in a warmer and more accepting manner than in comparison areas. This effect is consistent with the broad goals of SSLPs. In addition to determining whether there were differences, on average, between all the SSLP areas and the comparison communities on the multiple measures of child, parenting and family functioning examined, efforts were also undertaken to determine whether some communities produced children, parenting and family outcomes that were better than would be expected on the basis of a wide range of family and community background characteristics (e.g., family income, workless households in community). Evidence indicated, when such variation within both SSLP and comparison areas was considered, that SSLP areas were more than twice as likely as comparison communities to show evidence of better-than-expected functioning across a set of 20 different outcomes related to child development and parenting. Further work by the evaluation team is exploring what characteristics differentiate the more effective programmes from those having little effect. This work may be particularly useful for informing the future development of Sure Start Local Programmes. Initial attempts at exploring the characteristics of the more effective SSLP communities reveal that there are some area-level demographic characteristics associated with effective programmes, perhaps suggesting that SSLPs are more likely to be effective in somewhat less-deprived communities, but that variation in the implementation of SSLPs, as least as currently measured, does not appear to be systematically related to variation in programme efficacy. This latter topic requires additional work by the evaluation team. In addition further work is ongoing in another 75 SSLP communities throughout 2004. The data collected from these communities will be added to that collected in 2003 to provide more extensive evidence of the possible effects of SSLPs upon children, families and communities. Hence the findings summarized so far can only be regarded as preliminary.