Written by: Cally Worden
The government launched Sure Start as a means to help every child in the UK get the best possible start in life. Services offered under the scheme focus on Family Health, Well Being, and Early Years Education for pregnant women and their children aged four and under. Sure Start services are aimed primarily at parents and young children who come from disadvantaged areas.
The Sure Start Approach
Sure Start takes a holistic approach – this means that it offers a blend of services appropriate to each individual case. Education, health services and support for parents may be offered in varying forms depending on the specific needs of the individuals involved. Services are provided at a local level. This offers the opportunity for local statutory agencies and relevant voluntary organisations to design and deliver a programme of support; this takes account of the particular circumstances of each family.
The Sure Start policy is built around a framework of six core services areas, as follows:
- Home visiting and outreach services
- Healthcare and advice at a primary and community level
- Communication, language and speech support
- General support to families and parents
- Group and home-based support to promote good quality learning, play and childcare experiences for the children concerned
- Community-wide support for all children
The ranges of services on offer from Sure Start within the above policy framework is very varied, but typically includes:
- Antenatal advice and support
- Postnatal support, such as for breastfeeding
- Development programmes for babies and young children – these could include baby massage and yoga, and organised play sessions
- Learning programmes for parents – providing guidance and advice on nutrition, general parenting, paternal input, and support for families from ethnic minorities
- Healthcare support – this covers a range of services from midwives and health visitors to language and speech therapy
The social and emotional development of children aged 2-3 years has been identified by the Sure Start programme as an area worthy of specific attention. In support of this, Sure Start offers a targeted Developmental Programme for children in this age group.
The Developmental Programme is available to those families and children deemed to be most likely to benefit from such support. This particular service focuses on enhancing the emotional and social development of children by improving language and communication skills. One key element of this is to teach and encourage the use of imaginative play. Family participation is considered a key element of the programme, new skills and development opportunities can be built upon in the home.
How to Benefit from Sure Start
There are many Sure Start centres across the UK. They tend to be located in the most deprived areas (as defined by government statistics). You can find your nearest centre by searching online, ask at your local authority offices or in the local library for details. Many services offered by Sure Start are free, with others requiring a small financial contribution. In some cases, there may be grants or benefits available to those on low incomes to cover these costs. The best bet is to talk directly with your local Sure Start centre to see what they can do for you.