Headlines: February 3rd, 2004

A report out today says around 700,000 children in rural areas live on the margins of poverty, and it highlights some of the work being done to ensure that deprived children in the countryside get better access to services and facilities.The report from the Countryside Agency says historically the needs of children in rural areas have been difficult to tackle and are often overlooked because the children are dispersed and live some distance from services. The report, “Delivering Effective Services to Children and Families in Rural Areas: the early lessons from SureStart,” goes on to look at ways that the programme has helped some of the children and their families.

It says difficulties such as lack of suitable premises, the shortage of existing resources, including trained and experienced staff, and the additional time and costs involved in working in remote rural locations mean more creative and flexible solutions are necessary if needy rural children are to benefit from the SureStart programme.

The Countryside Agency has worked with the Department for Education and Skills and DEFRA to “rural proof” SureStart so that it can be delivered effectively in country areas. Today’s report looks at a number of case studies to examine solutions that have been adopted and how they are providing a much-needed resource to a scattered population of disadvantaged children and families.

The report is being launched in York today at the first in a series of conferences around the country aimed at finding ways to improve services for rural children and families. Margaret Clark, director of the Countryside Agency, will tell the conference that the report shows how, by thinking rural and developing imaginative ways of reaching those in need, national programmes such as SureStart can be delivered effectively in rural areas.

Case studies from the first rural SureStart programmes include work in the Borough of Berwick in Northumberland where a 12-place nursery in Wooler had difficulties recruiting experienced nursery staff. The problems were compounded by the 80 mile round trip to the nearest college. SureStart worked with the high school and college by offering interviews at the nursery for those undertaking the NVQ3 modules in baby care. In the East Lindsey area of Lincolnshire a volunteer driver scheme, is helping to bring families to a range of services. Most people use it to visit their GP, a specialist children’s health service which is more than 75 miles away, or a dentist, as there are none in the SureStart area.

In West Somerset a voluntary organization has been providing mobile play sessions but its new role SureStart has extended to taking a health visitor to isolated homes using a van specially adapted for outreach purposes with a play space and a separate area for consultation. Other SureStart rural programmes included in the study are in Cornwall, Cumbria, Derbyshire, Devon, Herefordshire, Shropshire and Staffordshire.

The report, “Delivering Effective Services to Children and families in Rural Areas: the early lessons from SureStart” (CA 151) was written by the National Council of Voluntary Child Care Organisations (NCVCCO). Copies can be downloaded at www.countryside.gov.uk or obtained from Countryside Agency Publications, PO Box 125, Wetherby, LS23 7EP.