Sure Start (Northern Ireland) is a flagship policy that aims to reduce health and educational inequalities in the early years and beyond. For more than two decades, Sure Start has supported families with children aged 0 to 4 living in the most deprived areas of the country.


Measure the impact of this policy on the health of infants and mothers living in the most deprived areas of Northern Ireland. Using administrative data, we are also scoping the potential to look at impact throughout a child’s life.

Being born into poverty is associated with educational and health disadvantages from infancy through to adulthood and incurs a considerable expense to the public purse. Early years interventions — such as Sure Start — have tremendous potential to address the causes of educational and health inequalities in later life. However, it has always been challenging to prove the impact of these interventions robustly. Our project takes advantage of a natural experiment that occurred when the Department of Education expanded Sure Start to new areas between 2006 – 2010, 2013 – 2017 and 2021.

Using administrative data on every child born in Northern Ireland, our research aims are to measure the impact of Sure Start on:

  • Maternal* and child health in the first 60 months of life
  • Use of services and identification of developmental delays in children
  • Early parenting behaviours

* fathers are also eligible for the programme, as are other carers – everyone in the family is relevant. The issue is on the data side, as it’s sadly hard to identify fathers and almost impossible to study others.

Activities and Methods

Our team will :

  • Measure the impact of Sure Start on the families using linked administrative data to create a birth cohort composed of thousands of infants.     
  • Address a critical evidence gap regarding Sure Start and its benefits.

Disseminate our findings outside of academia to advance decision-making in the rest of the UK. We aim to speak directly to families and Sure Start practitioners, recognising their invaluable insights, as well as third-sector organisations such as the National Children’s Bureau.    


This Research is ongoing

Lead Person

Principal InvestigatorDr Meng Le Zhang

Academics and Researchers

Research FellowDr Gareth Griffiths
Senior Research FellowDr Martin Elliott
ProfessorProf. Sally Holland
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