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Home Publications The health impacts of universal early childhood interventions: evidence from Sure Start

The health impacts of universal early childhood interventions: evidence from Sure Start

IFS Working Paper W21/25

We evaluate the short- and medium-term heath impacts of Sure Start, a large-scale and univer-sal early childhood program in England. We exploit the rollout of the program and implement a difference-in-difference approach, combining data on the exact location and opening date of Sure Start centers with administrative data on the universe of admissions to public-sector hospitals. Exposure to an additional Sure Start center per thousand age-eligible children increases hospitalization by 10% at age 1 (around 6,700 hospitalizations per year), but reduces them by 8-9% across ages 11 to 15 (around 13,150 hospitalizations per year). These findings show that early childhood programs that are less intensive than small-scale ‘model programs’ can deliver significant health benefits, even in contexts with universal healthcare. Impacts are driven by hospitalizations for preventable conditions and are concentrated in disadvantaged areas, suggesting that enriching early childhood environments might be a successful strategy to reduce inequalities in health.

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Briefing note
Over the last two decades, Sure Start Children’s Centres (and their predecessors, Sure Start Local Programmes) have been one of the most important policy programmes in the early years in England. These centres operate as ‘one-stop shops’ for families with children under 5, bringing together a ...
Press release
New IFS research finds that one of England’s biggest early years programmes delivered long-lasting health benefits for children through their teenage years. Taken together, the savings from reduced hospitalisations up to age 15 offset around 31% of spending on the programme.