Sure Start aims to ensure that every child gets the best possible start in life by offering a broad range of services focusing on family health, Early Years care and education and improved well-being programmes to children aged 0-4.
The specific aims of Sure Start are to:
- Improve the ability to learn by encouraging stimulating play, improving language skills and the early identification and support of children with learning difficulties;
- Improve health by supporting parents in caring for children and promoting children’s health and development; and
- Improve social development by supporting the development of early relationships between parents and children, good parenting skills, family functioning and early identification and support of children with emotional, learning or behavioural difficulties.
The key principles of Sure Start are to:
- Co-ordinate, streamline and add value to existing services for young families in local communities, including signposting to specialised services;
- Involve parents;
- Avoid stigma;
- Ensure lasting support;
- Be sensitive to particular families’ needs; and
- Promote participation of all local families.
Services provided by Sure Start must:
- Add value to existing/planned services
- Be based upon evidence of what interventions are successful
- Imaginatively respond to local need
- Be informed by strategic direction.
The expected policy outcomes of Sure Start include:
- Improved language skills;
- Early identification of developmental delay;
- Improved access to services;
- Enhanced parenting skills; and
- Effectively integrated services.
Sure Start programmes are designed specifically to reflect and respond to local needs. For that reason, each Sure Start Project is unique in terms of the programmes it delivers. There are, however, core services which must feature in Sure Start services. The core services are:
- Outreach and home visiting services, to make contact as early as possible in a child’s life and draw families into using other services
- Family support including befriending, social support and parenting information, both group and home based
- Good quality play, learning and childcare experiences for children (both group and home based)
- Primary and community health care and advice
- Speech language and communication support
- Support for all children in the community recognising their differing needs
An important part of the Sure Start ethos is to build a considerable degree of local autonomy and to build partnerships in the local community. For example, while DE is responsible for the overall strategic and financial management of the Sure Start Programme in Northern Ireland, there are several layers of accountability within the Sure Start management structure. These range from Sure Start Management Committees, who are responsible for decisions at a local level, to the Childcare Partnership Managers who are the key link with DE to ensure that Sure Start delivery on the ground reflects existing and evolving policy. Lisburn Sure Start Management Committee has representation from community based organisations to ensure delivery is supported on the ground.