To glean lessons relevant to the U.K. government’s expansion of the Sure Start early childhood intervention program, Commonwealth Fund–supported researchers examined the experience of two similar programs in the U.S., Head Start and Early Head Start.
What the Study Found
The study drew several conclusions:
- Early childhood interventions can make a considerable difference to children’s chances in life.
- Expanding a program without adequate funding can threaten quality.
- Narrow, easily measureable objectives can crowd out broader, less easily quantifiable goals.
- Programs must balance the need for structure against the need for flexibility to adapt to local conditions.
- There may be conflicts between different program goals, for example, the desire to involve parents and at the same time to remedy “deficient” parenting.
- Programs may have differing impacts on different groups.
In the U.K., some have raised concerns about the implications of expanding Sure Start for the program's funding, quality, and level of parental involvement. According to the authors these are legitimate concerns: "U.S. experience shows that these are centrally important issues and that, if they are not addressed early on, they can take many years to rectify."