Recently in Early Years & Sure Start Category

Small children playing Professor John Bynner's piece in today's Guardian concerns the need for a 'science of the family' - the need to recognise how families large and small work, and to debate how those who seek to support children and their parent/s should best interface on the basis of that knowledge. Of course this is essential; but then we need also a mechanism for sharing these ideas. My own work with Sure Start suggests it's all those little, day-to-day, conversations between colleagues as they explore common understandings, which may best deliver this.

Early Years & Sure Start.

I'd agree strongly with John Bynner - who has followed closely the national Sure Start evaluation (NESS) programmes - that an applied 'science of the family', frameworked around the emerging shape of Sure Start Children's Centres, is now critical to prospects for longer-term success.

In summary Bynner's message is that involving parents and studying projects which work is crucial to improving children's wellbeing.

The transition to Sure Start Children's Centres
I have undertaken quite a lot of work with Sure Start programmes, as they make the transition, within various Local Authorities settings, to Children's Centres. This is a vitally important programme, and there's a pressing need for even more research into how best, in the interests of everyone, we should support children and their parents in the task of ensuring a happy childhood and positive ways of achieving adulthood.

The Sure Start evaluation programme has already indicated many ways this could happen; now we must equip more professionals and other practitioners working with children and their parents, to make these examples of good practice the norm.

From pilot programmes to good practice
But we have to remember that Sure Start programmes began at the turn of the Millennium as individual, isolated, almost silo-ed, initiatives, trying to find their way in uncharted waters.

Studies such as those of NESS have helped everyone to move towards a more coherent whole; but the emphases within Sure Start programmes in different places are often still different, within the overall requirements, because people working on the programmes come from different practitioner backgrounds.

As one example, early years and health practitioners are not often geared towards the more formal end of adult basic education and employment skills training - which is in many cases the key to unlocking doors to the future for those who have, so far, had not a lot.

Commonalities between professional disciplines
Despite the increasingly clear insistence from government on joined up frameworks to support children and their families, not enough senior people 'on the ground' are as yet willing to concede that this really must happen in meaningful ways.

This change in perspective would require further revisiting professional / practitioner silos; GPs, teachers, social workers and so on are not always good at that sort of thing. But early years practitioners, midwives, community volunteers etc have essential understandings to offer in cross-disciplinary terms, if they can be put in a position (and fully supported in these extra intra-professional skills?) to do so.

There's a need for substantial elements of advocacy and aspiration in all this. 'Good' parenting and happy childhoods don't just happen; they occur when the context is right. This is where Sure Start can help.

Working together
We need to find ways to encourage all concerned to work closely together; and that has to start with valuing and learning from a million small and positive conversations between practitioners of all sorts, to help us focus on delivering our aspiration of every child being a happy child.

My own experience tells me we need to keep translating these perspectives between those on the ground and the decision-makers, so as to realign and focus collaboratively, in our different ways, on supporting the people, individuals, families and communities, whom we are in the business of helping.

A million small conversations
It's the 'million small conversations' - hopefully based on everyone, not just the powers-that-be, knowing the fundamentals of good practice and what the research tells us - which make this transition.

Practitioners talk all the time to individuals in families and local communities; their wisdom is essential; they are trusted by clients where others may not be.

But the flow of information has to be two-way. The decision-makers know the outcomes of wider research on 'what works', for instance, and they need to share that much more proactively than they often currently do.

Learning from each other
Talking with those who are on the ground day-by-day isn't an optional extra here; it's how we all learn. And this these conversations are what, in my opinion, are most often lacking so far.... which perhaps is also why progress to enabling those who experience disadvantage is so painfully slow.

I've started several explorations of how to align different disciplines towards the overarching Sure Start objective, only to be told by those working in the service that they 'haven't got time' to meet me as a group to examine what's happening.

Before we finish, the reverse is always true: these practitioners and professionals have by then become autonomous in their desire to keep in touch and share good practice. Change can happen, albeit not always as we expect.

In the end this becomes a virtuous circle; we really do need to value the currency of relaxed inter-disciplinary discussion, forgetting the hierarchies and valuing the common goals.

Different approaches, different outcomes
It's been instructive to see how the structures of programmes such as Sure Start may and / or may not help to raise the aspirations of local people; and that's no criticism of people who have chosen as best they can one set of ways over another to try to support those who are less fortunate.

But the disconjunctions of different practitioner perspectives need to be acknowledged as a challenge, to get this enabling of aspirations on the agenda.

I've started projects which focused on health in early years, and ended up with serious discussions also about local economic strategies and adult ed.

There wasn't in the end a problem here, it was just that the economic and education people felt as unknowledgeable about early years, as the early years practitioners did about them.

How do families 'work'?
To return to the theme of John Bynner's piece, we don't as yet have very complete knowledge of how families (whether of two or ten...) work, especially when it comes to positive service delivery.

And we can add to that that the community volunteers and mums and dads had never been asked till then what they thought either about the 'education and training' side of things. What sort of local enterprises would they like? (The answer was often healthy local food....) What sort of education and training is best? (Answer, usually: the sort you can get near home, with childcare...)

Once again, the way forward was to get those small conversations going....

Synergies to reduce disadvantage
The goodwill is certainly there; it's the synergies that need to be nurtured until they can stand up for themselves.

There has to be a better model for reducing disadvantage. I seriously propose that part of it is to embrace the idea of everyone (clients, where they wish to, practitioners on the ground, and decision-makers) talking to each other, as equals, in those million small conversations.


Read more about Early Years & Sure Start.

Happy baby The Government wants to set up 3,500 Sure Start Children's Centres by 2010; so it's good news that most Merseyside local authorities have hit their targets a year early, with a large majority of parents of under-fives expressing high satisfaction with the service. Early on there were concerns about councils 'taking over' the development of Children's Centres from the semi-autonomous Sure Start schemes. On reflection, integration of health, education and social services can in reality only be achieved with strong leadership from the top.

Early Years & Sure Start.

The next step is to embed this service so it's an essential part of the support all children require. That's a task which only concerted effort from the top can achieve.


Read more about Early Years & Sure Start.

Your views are welcome.

Mums & prams High Infant Mortality Rates (IMR) are a distressing measure, but they tell us a lot about the nation's health. In the UK today the risk of infant death is about one in two hundred live births. But still seven times as many babies die in some working class Northern towns as do in the wealthiest parts of the South East. The Sure Start programme, alongside the Government's IMR health inequalities initiative, shows promise in addressing these massive inequalities; but the next step must be to strengthen Sure Start's interdisciplinary framework.

Fundamental issues such as human health and well-being are rarely a challenge for only one part of public sector services.

The really big problems almost always straddle a wide range of service provision, which can add substantially to the difficulties of resolving them - no one service provider alone 'owns' the issue, and it is often unclear who should head up programmes to address the problem.

Differentials in life expectancy
A classic example of this is the challenge in the UK of reducing the gap between the life expectancy of richer and poorer people, to achieve the goal of everyone who possibly can enjoying a long and healthy life.

The better the start in life, the more likely a person is to have a good outcome also in the future. For this reason there has been much emphasis in recent years on Infant Mortality Rates, which are generally agreed to be amongst the most sensitive overall indicators of a nation's health.

Infant Mortality Rates (IMR) are usually stated as numbers of deaths per 1000 live births. The figures are often broken down into rates for the first four weeks of life (neonatal rate) and then for the rest of the first year of a child's life (post-neonatal rate), i.e. from the end of week four till first birthday.

Infant Mortality Rates in Britain
The national statistics show that even since the 1970s, in the UK IMRs have fallen by about 60%. In 1978 the neonatal (first four weeks) rate was 8.7 deaths per 1000 live births, and the post-neonatal rate, up to a child's first birthday, was 4.5.

By 1988 the rates were 4.9 and 4.1 respectively, and in 1997 they were 3.9 and 2.0.

In 2007 the UK neonatal mortality rate was 3.3 per 1000 live births, and the post-neonatal rate was 1.5 - in other words, a child born in the UK in 2007 had a probability of dying before his or her first birthday of just about one half of one percent. (You can see international comparisons here.)

Regional differences
Sadly, these national statistics include both good and bad news. The good news is that decent housing, income and environments can support people in long and healthy lives.

The bad news is that the opposite conditions can be lethal. There are parts of the North of England, for instance, where IMR is about twice that national average, and up to seven times that of the very best outcomes.

Specifically, high IMR and low life expectancy often go hand-in hand in the Spearhead areas; the 70 local authority areas with the worst health and deprivation indicators, and for which a programme of public service interventions has been developed.

High risk factors in health inequality
The target does not however take into account all dimensions of health inequalities in infant mortality. The statistics show e.g. that in 2002–04, the infant mortality rate of babies of mothers:
* born in Pakistan (10.2 per 1,000 live births) was double the overall IMR;
* born in the Caribbean (8.3 per 1,000 live births) was 63% higher than the national average;
* aged under 20 years (7.9 per 1,000 live births) was 60% higher than for older mothers aged 20–39;
* where the birth was registered by the mother alone (6.7 per 1,000 live births), was 36% higher than among all births inside marriage or outside marriage or jointly registered by both parents.

Improving life chances
Obviously, these significant inequalities are just not acceptable. The Government therefore introduced a Public Service Agreement (PSA ) Target in 2007 with the express objective of reducing the IMR gap, so that more babies will live to have long and healthy lives. (Healthy babies also have better long-term prospects, sometimes dramatically so.)

The deal is that the UK Treasury provides the money, and the public sector delivers the agreed outcome, to a clear timescale and against clearly measured outcomes.

Particular emphasis has therefore been placed in terms of health inequalities on achieving a ten percent reduction (between 2003 and 2010) in the IMR deficit between people in routine and manual (R&M) jobs, and the general population.

Practical steps forward
The practical ways in which the Health Inequalities Infant Mortality PSA Target Review (February 2007) can be achieved are focused on two things: sensible day-to-day actions and provisions, and interdisciplinary co-operation. In the words of the NHS summary of the Implementation plan for reducing health inequalities in infant mortality:

'The plan describes how commissioners and service providers can develop local services to help reduce health inequalities in infant mortality through:

* promoting joined-up delivery of the target with Maternity Matters and Teenage Parents Next Steps. This includes
* improving access to maternity care;
* improving services for black and minority ethnic (BME) groups;
* encouraging ownership of the target through effective performance management;
* raising awareness of health inequalities in infant mortality and child health;
* gathering and reporting routine data, including specific maternity and paediatric activity;
* undertaking joint strategic needs assessment to identify local priorities around health inequalities in maternity and infant mortality;
* giving priority to evidence-based interventions that will help ensure delivery of the target.

It emphasises the importance of partnership working; outlines the role of government departments, strategic health authorities (SHAs), primary care trusts (PCTs), local authorities and Sure Start Children’s Centres.'

Specific, realisable targets for practical action and delivery
Progress may be slow, but none of this is rocket science.

Large-scale studies have demonstrated that just a few health messages about avoiding early years risk can have a big impact. Indeed, the Review of Health Inequalities has been able to quantify four measures, and suggest another one, which would have appreciable impact on the ‘10% reduction in IMR gap’ target. These were:

* reduce prevalence of obesity in the R&M group by 23%, to current general population levels – 2.8% gap reduction
* reduce smoking in pregnancy from 23% to 15% in R&M group – 2% gap reduction
* reduce R&M group sudden unexpected deaths in infancy by persuading 1 in 10 women in this group to avoid sharing a bed with their baby, or letting it sleep prone (on its front) – 1.4% gap reduction
* achieve teenage pregnancy target – 1% gap reduction
* also, early booking and improved teenage pregnancy services – not possible as yet to quantify probable gap reduction, but positive impact on gap anticipated.

Getting it right
The scope for getting this right in very simple ways is therefore enormous. Whilst guidance at national level, such as the Department of Health's Child Health Promotion Plan (June 2008) is essential to provide a framework, much of the responsibility for success has to lie with the authorities 'on the ground', who have to co-ordinate the action.

In reality, only at the local level is it possible to get practitioners to work together well, to ensure that all those - including so-called 'hard to reach' minority ethnic familes, travellers and e.g. very young parents or parents with mental health problems - who would benefit from services, advice or support, in fact receive them. Although programmes such as the Family Nurse Partnership (a joint Department of Health / Department for Children, Schools and Families project whereby specially trained midwives and health vsitors work closely with vulnerable, first time, young parents) are starting to reach those with most disadvantage, in some places still this doesn't always happen.

It is disappointing therefore to read claims in this month's Regeneration and Renewal that the PSA Inequality target will be missed, despite the many billions of pounds (£9bn in 2007-8) which have been invested in Sure Start services to deliver early years provision.

An expected move
This probably why the Government is launching a public consultation on proposals to give Sure Start Children's Centres a specific statutory legal basis, as part of the forthcoming Education and Skills Bill.

Such a move was indicated as a possibility when The Children's Plan (the ten year programme for Every Child Matters) was introduced in December 2007. It would establish Sure Start Children's Centres as 'a legally recognised part of the universal infrastructure for children's services, so their provision becomes a long term statutory commitment and part of the established landscape of early years provision'.

The best way forward
This is a much better idea than the alternatives proffered in some quarters - more Health Visitors as a stand-alone, for instance. (What about the GPs / family doctors? How do they fit in?)

A review of progress has shown (as my own consultancy work also indicates) that the PSA infant mortality target was not known or understood by practitioners (NHS, local government and Sure Start staff etc) despite individual examples of leadership and good practice.

Reaching out
And nor, in my experience, do practitioners and policy makers automatically know that impact has to be measured across the whole relevant population of infants, not just those who attend particular service provision, be this Health Visitor clinics, Sure Start or whatever.

About 80% of early years formal care is actually undertaken by small private concerns, child minders and so forth, a 'group' which, whilst of course the subject of statutory regulation and monitoring, it is particularly difficult to bring together in any meaningful way. But what happens in small relatively isolated provision will have a big impact on children's future lives.

The PSA IMR Review has therefore identified the criticality of making the 10% gap reduction target part of everyday business – integrating into commissioning plans and provider contracts; taking responsibility and engaging communities; matching resources to needs; and focusing on what can be done.

Multi-disciplinary and future-facing
The challenges of equipping professionals to work together across disciplines are complex; not every practitioner would say, if asked, that they actually want to be so equipped and so far out of their comfort zone. But these challenges must be met, as is beginning to happen, with skills audits by NIACE which indicate the centrality in Sure Start provision of effective multi-agency leadership and partnership development.

The National Audit Office reports that, whilst most Sure Start Children's Centre managers understand they must approach the work in a multi-disciplinary way, this is not always so for local authorities, who 'had not all developed effective partnerships with health and employment services'.

The onus is now particularly on local government and NHS providers. If it takes more legislation to ensure they all collaborate properly with Sure Start Children's Centres (and vice versa), so be it. It's children's futures which are at stake.


Read also: Early Intervention In The Early Years

See also: 'Changes for the better?' - The Every Child Matters policy, published in 2003, was a landmark proposal for child social service reform. Five years on, Ruth Winchester asks the professionals how things have developed, and what progress has been made (The Guardian, 22 October 2008)

Crowds Today is World Population Day. On this day in 1968, world leaders proclaimed that individuals have a basic human right to determine the number and timing of their children. Forty years later, population issues remain a real challenge even in Britain, where greater cohesion is still needed for policy in action.

Inevitably much of the focus since then has been on women, and especially maternal health and education.

There can be no doubt at all that a failure of health care during pregnancy and birth takes a terrible toll on lives, both maternal and infant. Multiple unplanned pregnancies are a leading cause of premature death and tragic disability for many women and their children, especially in very poor countries.

Access to family planning
UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, says active use of family planning in developing countries has increased from 10-12% in the 1960s to over 60% today. But despite these improvements, a World Bank report just released says that 35 countries - 31 of them in sub-Saharan Africa - still have very high fertility rates and grim mortality rates from unsafe deliveries or abortions.

According to this World Bank report, women in developing countries experience 51 million unintended pregnancies each year because of lack of access to effective contraception That is a great deal of heartache, even apart from the enormous issues it raises for global ecosystems.

Not just a a 'Third World' issue
But this is not a problem only for people in the poorest developing countries.

Most of us are aware that people in the 'developed' countries use hugely more energy and other resources than do those in poor countries. Even with our much lower fertility rates we are currently much more of a threat to global sustainability than are people in Africa.

Blighted lives in the Western world too
"Promoting girls’ and women’s education is just as important in reducing birth rates in the long run as promoting contraception and family planning," says Sadia Chowdhury, a co-author of the World Bank report.

That is also true even in places such as today's Britain. Teenage pregnancy - and unintended pregnancy overall - remains a serious issue for many families in the U.K. even now.

There is an essential synergy between prospects for women in education and employment, and elective motherhood. Each benefits from the other. And each also brings benefit for the children who are born, including better prospects even for their very survival.

IMR inequalities relate to social class
Currently differences in infant UK infant death rates can be huge, and can often be attributed to occupational and class differentials. In 2002-4 a baby born in Birmingham was eight times more likely to die before its first birthday than one in Surrey, with rates of 12.4 and 2.2 infant deaths per thousand live births respectively. (Bradford is another very high-risk area, and set up its own enquiry to see how to improve.)

This is not an easy matter to discuss politically, but it could not be more important, even in Britain, one of the wealthiest nations in the world.

Improving family health
One main health objectives of the British Government is to improve infant mortality rates (IMR: the number of babies who die before their first birthday, against each one thousand born), so that the infants of poorer parents have better outcomes, like those of more advantaged parents.

The target for England is a 10% reduction in the relative gap (i.e. percentage difference) in infant mortality rates between “routine and manual” socio-economic groups and England as a whole from the baseline year of 1998 (the average of 1997-99) to the target year 2010 (the average of 2009-2011).

Life outcomes and expectation
To focus this up: for each baby in the UK who dies before his or her first birthday, there will be about ten who survive with enduring disability, and often with diminished life expectancy.

At present, often through lack of knowledge, or sometimes difficulties in accessing appropriate care, this distressing outcome is much more likely to affect families where women are poorly educated, than those where women have a good education and good jobs or careers.

Preventable tragedy
It does not have to be like this.

The Government is absolutely right to tackle this difficult matter, but effective action requires co-ordinated delivery by all who provide care and support for parents and children. There must be no room for professional maternity care in-fighting, such as is reported by Sir Ian Kennedy, chair of the Healthcare Commission to exist between obstetricians and midwives.

Children's Centres as a way forward?
The national transition from Sure Start to the encompassing provision of Children's Centres, underpinned by the fundamental philosophy of the Every Child Matters initiative, is now underway.

To date there has been little discussion about how family planning support needs to be built into this really important development.

Professional obligation
This may be a tricky issue, but it's one where the professionals could, if they chose, much help the Government to help all of us.

When are we going to hear those who provide early years and family support saying, loud and clear, that 'every child a wanted child' is a basic requirement for everyone in Britain as well as elsewhere?

A not-to-be repeated opportunity?
The need for effective family planning in parts of the developing world remains desperate, and must be met.

But that doesn't excuse skirting the issue here at home, just at a point when new and joined up services focusing directly on families and children are being created, with the aim of eradicating child poverty and increasing wellbeing for everyone.

And given the political sensitivities, surely it's the practitioners - in health, education, welfare and the rest - who have to lead the way?


Read more articles about Public Service Provision.

Pedestrians, inner ring road & railway 004a.jpg Regeneration is a crowded field. It’s the market place to resolve the competing demands of social equity indicators as varied as joblessness, family health, carbon footprint, religious belief and housing. But it's obvious something isn't gelling in the way regeneration 'works'. Could that something be the almost gratuitous neglect of experiential equality and diversity?
BURA, the British Urban Regeneration Association, is squaring up to this fundamental challenge.

Discuss equality and diversity issues with any group of regeneration practitioners, and just one of two responses is likely.

Some respond immediately: Yes, critical for everyone; what took you so long?

For others, the feeling seems to be more : Great idea, but not much to do with me.

So where’s the common ground?

Balancing strategy and everyday reality
How can we balance large-scale strategies for a sustainable economy with the immediate human reality that, as an example, women born in Pakistan now living in Britain have twice the U.K. average risk that their babies will die before age one?

The Board of BURA, the British Urban Regeneration Association, has during the past year thought hard about where in all this some commonality might lie, and what that means for the future. Whether as a practitioner, a client or recipient of regenerational endeavours, an agent for economic development, or a policy maker seeking sustainable futures for us all, questions of social equity matter a lot.

But the case for equality and diversity is easier for practitioners and decision-makers to see in some parts of regeneration than others.

Large-scale and micro impacts
No-one doubts, for instance, that new roads and other infrastructure can attract businesses and enhance employment opportunities for disadvantaged areas.

Some will acknowledge the physical isolation which new highways may impose on those without transport, now perhaps cut off from their families, friends and local amenities.

Almost no-one considers how regeneration might reduce the tragic personal realities behind high infant death rates in poor or ‘deprived’ communities.

Differential impacts
The point is that these impacts are differential. The elderly or disabled, mothers and young children, people of minority ethnic heritage: overall the experience of people in these groups is more community disadvantage and fewer formal resources to overcome this disadvantage.

But for each ‘group’, the tipping points are different.

The scope for examination of differential equality and diversity impacts – of infrastructural arrangements, of process, of capacity building and of everything else to do with regeneration - is enormous, and would go quite a way towards reducing unintended consequences and even greater serendipitous disadvantage for some people.

This work has hardly begun, but it is I believe a basic requirement and tool for making progress towards genuinely remediated and sustainable communities.

One size does not fit all
It is obvious that currently something isn’t gelling in the way that regeneration ‘works’. That something, to my mind, is the almost gratuitous neglect of difference. However one looks at it, one size simply does not fit all in the greater regenerational scheme of things.

But if you zoomed in from outer space, you’d be forced to the conclusion that one size does in fact fit almost all when it comes to senior decision-makers and influencers. There are amongst leaders in regeneration some women, a few non-white faces, and perhaps even smaller numbers of influencers with personal experience of, say, disability; but not many.

This self-evident fact has, of course, been a matter of deep concern to those in the regeneration sector over the past few months.

Meeting social equity requirements - or not
In the final three reports it published before its amalgamation last September into the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) demonstrated very clearly that regeneration bodies at every level, including 15 Whitehall departments, are failing to meet their race relations obligations. They also showed very compellingly that people from ethnic minorities are more likely to live in poverty, experience poor health, and encounter the criminal justice system.

Causal factors cited as underlying the CRE’s findings encompass most of what regeneration is supposed to do well. Failures of leadership, impact assessment, legal framework and recruitment are all lamented in the reports.

And we can add, alongside the CRE’s analysis, inequalities arising from gender, belief and other factors such as disability, as well as the wider issue of the invisibility and powerlessness of people of all kinds who are on low incomes – who, as it happens, are the main ‘recipients’ (perhaps we should call them ‘clients’?) of regeneration.

Evident disparities
There is a huge disparity here. Look round pretty well any significant regeneration-facing board room or policy think-tank, and it’s apparent that the majority of those wielding influence (on behalf, we should note, of people whose communities are to be ‘regenerated’) are comfortably-off, able bodied, white men.

In this respect, as everyone involved freely admits, the BURA Board fits the mould. Each BURA (elected) Director brings something special to the table; but few of them can offer at first hand a personal perspective divergent from the stereotype. We have therefore decided, unanimously, to address head-on this increasingly serious challenge to our capacity to deliver as leaders in regeneration.

Business benefits
But the BURA Board focus on equality and diversity, whilst driven primarily by the impetus to uphold best practice in regeneration, is not entirely altruistic. This is also good for business.

There is plenty of evidence from well-grounded research that sharing different understandings of any complex situation, right up to and including at Board level, brings benefit all round – including to the bottom line.

Our resolve to implement equality and diversity good practice throughout BURA has required that we look anew at how we function. The BURA Board recognises that we will need to be receptive to new ideas, willing to change things where needs be, and transparent in our own processes and activities.

The BURA programme for action
The BURA action plan, launched in Westminster on 20 February '08, is therefore to:
· conduct an equality and diversity audit of all aspects (including Board membership) of our organisation’s structure and business, and to publish our outline findings and plan for action on our website;
· monitor and report on our progress towards equality and diversity;
· dedicate a part of the BURA website to offering up-to-date information on equality and diversity matters, in a format freely accessible to everyone;
· develop our (also open) Regeneration Equality and Diversity Network, launched in February this year (2008), to encourage very necessary debate and the exchange of good practice;
· appoint from amongst elected Non-Executive Directors a BURA Equality and Diversity Champion (me), to ensure a continued focus on the issues.

In all these ways - developing inclusive partnerships at every level from local to governmental to international, supporting new initiatives and research of all sorts, keeping the equality and diversity agenda in the spotlight - we hope to move regeneration beyond its current boundaries, towards a place from which we can begin to establish not ‘just’ remediation of poor physical and human environments, but rather true and responsive sustainability.

Regeneration is complex
Regeneration is more than construction, development or even planning; it has to address for instance the alarming recent finding by New Start that sometimes ‘race’ concerns are focused more on fear, than on entitlement or social equity.

Delivery of our ambition to achieve genuine best practice will require the courage to move beyond current and largely unperceived hierarchies of inequality and diversity – not ‘just’ race, but gender / sexuality too; not ‘just’ faith / belief, but also disability - towards a framework which encompasses the challenging complexities of the world as people actually experience it.

No comfort zones
There can be no comfort zones in this enterprise. Acknowledging stark contemporary truths and painful past failures is essential if we are to succeed.

The purpose of regeneration is not to make practitioners feel good, it is ultimately, rather, to do ourselves out of a job; to improve, sustainably, the lives of people who are often neither powerful nor visible in the existing wider scheme of things.

Moving from piecemeal regeneration to sustainable futures makes two demands of us: that we see clearly where we all are now; and that we ascertain properly where the people of all sorts on whose behalf we are delivering regeneration would wish to be.

Multiple aspects of diversity
When we can balance constructively, say, the carbon footprint concerns of a businessman in Cheltenham, and the ambition to influence childcare arrangements of an Asian heritage woman in Bury, we shall be getting somewhere.

Diversity in its many manifestations – age, belief, (dis)ability, gender, race or whatever - is part of the human condition.

Consistent focus on the many factors underpinning that condition would be a powerful impetus towards sustainability. It would also be also a huge professional challenge.

Taking the lead as regenerators
That’s why we as regeneration leaders and practitioners must make equality and diversity a critically central theme, both within our own organisations and in the services which we deliver.

And it’s why we must start to do this right now.

We hope you will want to join us on our journey.

A version of this article was published as Regeneration re-think in Public Service Review: Transport, Local Government and the Regions, issue 12, Spring 2008.
Hilary Burrage is a Director of BURA, the British Urban Regeneration Association.

Read more articles:
Social Inclusion & Diversity
Regeneration

No go street 0996 (90x132).jpg Croxteth and Norris Green in Liverpool have recently become tragic headline news. But the no-hope issues behind the grim developments in these areas of North Liverpool have been simmering for many years. The Crocky Crew and Nogzy 'Soldiers' are not new. The challenge is how to support local people to achieve their higher expectations and horizons.

My first ‘real’ job post-college was as a junior social worker in Norris Green and Croxteth, Liverpool.

The task allotted me all that time ago was to visit every one of the 200+ people in the area, many of them living on the Boot Estate, who were on the Social Services list and had not been seen (‘assessed’) in the past year or two. And so, equipped only with the list, a degree certificate and a bus pass, I set about my first professional posting.

Forgotten land
Nothing, not my inner-city school, not my academic training, not my voluntary work, could have prepared me for what I was to see.

Here were elderly men who seemed to survive solely on Guinness, bread and marg; here were children with disability so severe that they had to live day-in, day-out in their parents’ lounge; here were old ladies who promised fervently to pray for me, simply because I was the first person they had spoken with for weeks.

Here, in fact, was a land, originally designed as the vision for the future, which, by those far-off days of the early 1970s, few knew, and almost everyone had forgotten.

For some, a zero-expectations environment
This was a Liverpool where there were people who, expecting nothing, eked an existence. It was the home of the dispossessed, the displaced and the despairing. Every day was like every other day in that concrete wilderness of dust, derelict front ‘gardens’, broken windows and enormous, fierce Alsation dogs.

No-one, or so it seemed, went to work. No-one ever seemed to leave the Norris Green ‘estate’, designed as a circular enclosure with concentric streets of council housing and no indication of via which road one might depart - urban planning surely to guarantee future disaster. There were few amenities (I had to take the bus to get even a sandwich or coffee at lunchtime) and even fewer shops.

Cut off from Croxteth
Until the 1980s Croxteth itself didn’t feature much in the Liverpool mind map as an area to live. Norris Green, the near-neighbour, was cut off from almost everywhere by dual carriageways on every side, and beyond them, on to the South-East was the huge, green Croxteth Estate – to this day the location of a fine country house and gardens open to visitors and in the ownership of the City of Liverpool.

Also near Norris Green was the North-East Liverpool Technical College (which co-incidentally turned out to be my next employer), a provider of day-release training for local Fords apprentices and other ‘tradesmen’ (the only women were student radiographers) and set on a large piece of land. Later, when then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher effectively abolished apprenticeships, the NELTC site was sold and became, with the farming land next to the Croxteth Estate, the location of a private development of pleasant housing for people who worked in the surrounding areas.

Broken hopes and promises
And later still the Norris Green council housing residents were promised their own improvements, as part of the Boot Estate programme – a programme which raised, and then dashed, the hopes of those from this place of quiet desperation who had dared to look to beyond their immediate horizons.

Little surprise – though unspeakably sad – that from this strange amalgam of development and despair have arisen the Nogzy ‘soldiers’ and the Crocky Crew of Liverpool’s current tragic troubles. Set alongside an area of new (relative) affluence, Norris Green is an enclosed place still, it must feel, without either hope or many stories of success.

Nothing excuses the illegal drugs economy and vicious violence - the fatal shooting by a local youth of Rhys Jones, who lived in Croxteth and was aged just eleven - of which we have all recently read; but one does begin to see through this disturbing grey blur how it might have come about.

Facing the future
There are many serious and good people who live and work in Norris Green and Croxteth. Life for them at present must feel extremely difficult, and the way forward by any account challenging. Support for what they do is obviously a critical first requirement.

But beyond that, I look back to a conversation between my supervising senior social worker and myself, when I left the employ of the Social Services.

I was leaving, I told my boss back then, because I believed that resolution of the issues required deep economic and political engagement, as well as the personal approach.

Strategies for hope
Many years later I still hold that conviction. Since that time Government and European funding of multiple millions has come to Liverpool; and now – in theory at least - we know so much more about positive strategic and sustainable intervention that we could ever have known then.

The traditional challenges of all-embracing absolute material poverty are in truth behind us. No longer can poverty alone be used to 'explain' the grim situation that we see.

New challenges
What we now face in Norris Green, Croxteth and some other city areas in Liverpool and elsewhere is the gang-led imposition by the few on the many of a sometimes suffocating, stultifying local culture; a culture, it is said, created intentionally by illegal drugs dealers who enforce it via the callous manipulation of alienated local children.

Nothing can change what has already happened. But I hope one outcome of recent awful events will be a compelling sense of urgency about getting things sorted, before more people’s lives are ruined and even more people believe that for them there is no hope.

Small child (small) 70x61.jpg Pre-school childcare is generally regarded as expensive. Even with government financial support, it stretches many household budgets. But there are now many more childcare places than hitherto. More places and higher costs, properly handled, may together be a longer-term sign of better status for women in the labour market.

The cost of pre-school childcare, we are constantly reminded, is ‘spiralling’ – highest, as ever, in London, and lowest in the north-west of England. The Daycare Trust tells us that the average cost of a full-time nursery place for under-twos is now (as of January 2007) £152 a week in England, and £131 in Wales. With individual average earnings at £447 a week, this is a hefty chunk out of some household budgets.

Early years support
Few would deny, however, that the government is doing its best to provide quality care for pre-school children. Welcoming recent developments, Alison Garnham, joint Chief Executive of the Daycare Trust called on the Government, as well as other political parties, to deliver the Ten Year Childcare Strategy:

At long last we have a government that is committed to making progress in childcare facilities in this country. When New Labour came to power they faced major challenges in delivering high quality and affordable childcare to all families and we welcome wholeheartedly the improvements that have been made under the Ten Year Strategy.'

Big changes from the past
Long gone is the grim time when finding childcare was an individual (mother)'s nightmare, relying only on a hunch and perhaps a local health visitor – who probably didn't ‘approve’ of working mums - in the exhausting search for someone reliable to care for one’s children whilst the money to feed them was earned.

In 2007, Sure Start is metamorphosing into Children’s Centres, and the tax credit system – to the daily tune of more than £2m for almost 400,000 families - helps many parents, as do tax-relief childcare vouchers (now up to age 12); and three- and four-year olds are entitled to 12.5 hours of free nursery education a week. In London, there is also a Childcare Affordability Programme which subsidises the cost of childcare by up to £30 for eligible parents.

Direct costs are up
Nonetheless, parents in the UK pay about 70% of the costs of childcare, compared to an average of about 30% for other European parents. (Where, of course, childcare patterns are sometimes very different.) And costs have risen more quickly than inflation – almost 6% in 2006, against inflation of less than half this.

Alongside this, there are reports that affordable childcare is difficult to find in many areas.

Not all bad news
I have three takes on this situation:

There is the individual problem for parents who find it hard to fund good childcare; there is the opportunity for business-minded child carers at last to earn a decent living; and there is a shift in the labour market which, longer-term, may well serve everyone well.

Parents’ stretched budgets
First, I have every sympathy with parents who struggle to make ends meet and find the costs of ‘quality’ childcare so difficult. Raising young families is always a challenge and it is crucial that every possible support is given to parents in their efforts to do this responsibly and well.

It’s very important from every perspective that parents – including, but not only, single parents - and their children receive all the help which can be mustered by their communities, employers, and the government.

Childcare entrepreneurs
Second, this situation is by no means bad news for those entrepreneurs – almost all of them women – who see a childcare market opportunity and grasp it.

Childcare providers, at least in Britain, has traditionally been appallingly badly paid. It is about time that this changed. These days many people are concerned about the quality of what they eat. If there is now a public debate also about the quality of care for their children, this can only be to the good.

The market will rise to the opportunity; but, just as with quality food, provision may not always be cheap. (Though expense is not always the issue: sometimes it’s actually organising the right thing which is the problem. Neither home-grown food nor local, small-scale quality childcare need be so very expensive.)

The labour market
Finally, if I were a feminist economist (assuming such persons consciously exist), I would be pleased about the current scenario.

It is likely that most of those who are pushing for higher wages in response to childcare costs will be women. By the logic of the market this demand will have to be addressed and to some extent met.

And a corollary, given only finite amounts of available money, may well be a market shift towards more equality of income between women and men. If women demand more pay, male employees (or indeed their managers / shareholding employers) will have to give way to a degree at least – especially as women are increasingly vital to the workforce, now often taking the field in terms of qualifications (sometimes gained whilst their little ones are receiving childcare) and skills.

Courage in transition
It’s a long, hard struggle, this childcare – equality scenario. But things overall are already better than they were, and the likelihood is that more pressure, higher expectations and political will together really can make a difference.

The Government’s Every Child Matters programme can of course be improved as experience in ‘how to do it’ is gained in communities and by decision-makers. Potential for improvements in childcare is however a positive, never a negative. The Government must keep its nerve.

The debates about affordability and quality in early years provision are welcome signs that every child does indeed ‘matter’, and that, slowly, the economy is adjusting to recognise just that.

Baby (small).jpg Critics of Sure Start, the U.K. government's early years programme, have been vocal of late. Yes, there is evidence that benefit has not always as yet reached those small children and families who need it most. But this is work in progress, and it must be continued.

Children & parent 06.7.2-5 023.jpg Sure Start, the huge government-led programme for 0 - 4 year olds, has been subject to quite a lot of criticism of late. It's understandable that senior polticians, the Prime Minister himself amongst them, should want to see progress before the next general election. The problem however is that small children don't become achieving teenagers in the same time-span.

This was never going to be easy. Sure Start is at present specifically focused on the least advantaged families, where take-up, especially for those parents who find themselves most challenged, is variable. But it's essential that those with the governmental cheque book hold their nerve.

Evidence that it works
One thing which stands out in the Sure Start programme is its emphasis on activities such as reading aloud for parents (and that includes fathers) and children to share. There is a dedicated theme in all this about bedtime stories, and indeed about just simple conversation between little ones and their carers. This is a difficult activity to measure with any degree of accuracy, but we know from longitudinal studies that, over years rather than just months, it works.

Sure Start is not the first programme of this sort. There's plenty of evidence from previous programmes here and in the U.S.A. that early intervention is really beneficial for those who become involved. But we're still learning how to reach the least advantaged and those who feel most marginalised.

Adapt, perhaps; abandon? No
Dad & two lboys  06.5.28 001.jpg Workers in Sure Start have had to find the way forward for themselves. Inevitably in such a situation some have had more success than others - not least because some local contexts provide greater challenges or fewer already established resources than do areas elsewhere.

The move towards Children's Centres, whilst unsettling for many of the professionals concerned, is if handled sensitively probably the right way to go. It would be a tragedy if critics determinedly take a short-term view which makes it difficult for the Government to continue with this work.

Dismissing the idea behind the initiative would result in damage to the futures of many thousands of children who deserve the better start in life.

Mum & child, plus childless couple (small) 90x91.jpg A recent survey suggests young people prefer material benefits to babies. But maybe hesitation about starting a family is more about uncertainty whether one's parenting will be good enough, than in wanting 'more' materially. And there is hope for the future of young families, not least in the support which Sure Start programmes are now beginning to deliver across the country.

The Guardian / ICM poll on attitudes to having children, reported today (2.5.06), demands careful reading.

The Guardian editorial on this important survey identifies some critical issues about contemporary attitudes to families and parenting. Now that young women and men feel equally free to pursue serious careers it is unsurprising that both should be cautious about producing babies; though this does not self-evidently suggest that babies are not valued of themselves. Perhaps rather it's concern about whether potential parents can provide 'good enough' care for their intended offspring which holds them back..... That, and the certainty that mothers still can't win when it comes to combining work and parenthood.

It is true that, as the Guardian leader says, there is a role here for government in supporting families and parenting, but it's less than accurate in suggest that this nettle has not been grasped. Amongst a range of initiatives is the national Sure Start programme, now developing across the country.

Sure Start programmes support parenting
Local Sure Start programmes in many places are working on the issues which underlie current concerns of parents and potential parents. By 2008-10 there will be Children's Centres all around the country, catering not 'just' (as Sure Start programmes currently do) for less advantaged young families, but for everyone. They will aim to accommodate the crucial fact that, as one parent commented, it 'costs a lot' financially and personally to go out to work when one has children.

Sure Start and the anticipated Children's Centres still face many challenges, but they are genuinely good news..... look out for National Sure Start Month, in June.

Ironically, because Sure Start and Children's Centres have so far focused on less advantaged families, they have not yet reached the chattering classes; so no-one's noticing them. Soon however these programmes will be at a place near you, and to everyone's benefit.

Acknowledge it or lose it?
It would be a sad irony if, in having started where it matters most of all, the government were not now to be given the credit for what will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity really to make a difference to the prospects of families of every sort - including those of hardworking professionals of both genders - right across the nation.

The idea of 'joined up' services and support for babies and young children and their carers is excellent. The delivery is of course more complex. Sure Start may not as yet be a complete or fully accessed programme, but it is already showing us ways forward which hold promise for the future.

Sure Start's a great idea. It's intended to bring together all the support and services required by parents and carers of young children (up to their fourth birthday), so that those perhaps otherwise at risk will be able to flourish alongside their more fortunate classmates-to-be.

A National Evaluation of Sure Start report out this week from Birkbeck College, London, suggests however that at best the impact of Sure Start so far is 'patchy'. Well, just three years from inception, I'd be rather surprised if it were anything else.

Grounded research
This, of course, is also what the evaluators say. Sure Start is a programme to reverse unconstructive or unfocused cultural patterns of behaviour which have sometimes now been embedded for decades. This is quite a challenge; and at present the programme still struggles to reach some of its target 'audience'.

It may feel difficult to say this so starkly, but children may have very little chance unless they are offered more care and encouragement than some parents and carers can give. Fortunately, the very large majority of parents love their children; but that, without a synergy between positive examples of how to conduct onesself in adulthood and the opportunities to do so, is a tough call. This I think is what the evaluators are seeing thus far.

Tying future prospects into current contexts
It's not just provision for small children which is on the agenda here. There's also the whole question of how adults with the care of these children perceive and respond to their own world.

The message is not necessarily that new mothers (or indeed fathers) need to work full-time right now, but rather that they need to feel engaged in and connected with their communities and the opportunities which are there and on offer - whether joined up services, voluntary and social activities, education and training or whatever else.

Adults who themselves thrive in the world they inhabit are also adults who can care more confidently for their children. If we can help those currently engaged in caring for their young children to see a promising and potentially more prosperous future, then surely these adults will be more comfortably able to enjoy and nurture their small charges now.

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