It's great to have more evaluation of one of the biggest programmes in Early Years support. Sure Start was rolled out 20 years ago in disadvantaged neighbourhoods, and made universal. As a programme, it accounted for a large element of public spending in the Early Years sector at that time. The most recent study, by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, finds evidence of impact on health, (one of a variety of intended benefits), especially around reducing hospitalisations. This evaluation is a good reminder of the need for continued services in areas of disadvantage particularly, and to keep exploring the methods by which these services can reach those families that need them most.
The centres provide parents with information and advice about health, education, childcare and employment, particularly in disadvantaged areas. Sure Start centres are credited with lowering the rates of children needing hospital treatment Researchers describe it as a story of a "fast rollout followed by deep spending cuts" - but they say the centres have brought measurable improvements. The provision of Sure Start centres "significantly reduced" the incidence of children going to hospital up to the age of 11, says the study, which looked at the impact on health. The study found that for every one Sure Start centre per thousand children there were 5,000 fewer hospital admissions for 11-year-olds each year. Christine Farquharson, a research economist at the IFS, said the drop in hospitalisation rates was the result of parenting advice, health education, lessons about keeping children safe and improving children's behaviour.