Author Interview – Naomi Eisenstadt

Naomi Eisenstadt, senior research fellow at the University of Oxford and a retired civil servant who ran the Sure Start Unit for its first seven years, is the author of ‘Providing a Sure Start: How government discovered early childhood‘. Here she answers some questions we put to her:

TPP: How did you come to be interested in your area of work?

NE: I first got interested in working with very young children when I was at university in California. I was at the time, and still am particularly interested in language development. I also was attracted to early years practice because small children are so honest about boredom. The onus is squarely on the adult to be interesting and engaging. The children have choice.

TPP: Describe a typical day (if there is such a thing!).

NE: A typical day when I was doing the work described in the book was lots of meetings, lots of running from one government building in Whitehall to the next, waiting for ministerial meetings to start and arranging visits to local Sure Start programmes. Reading and writing was done on the train to and from work, or at weekends.

TPP: What was your main goal in writing this book?

NE: My main goal was to try to explain the complexity of policy making. I wanted to surface the underlying assumptions that ministers had about Sure Start, how both implicit and explicit assumptions shaped the policy and the interweaving of evidence, gut feelings and politics around the policy process. I also wanted to get down what I think were the key lessons we learned.

TPP: What do you think of current government’s use of resources to make a positive change for young children?

NE: The current government has taken some really important steps to build on the accomplishments of the last in terms of services for young children, and in budgetary terms, early years has not suffered as much as many other areas. My main concern is the removal of the ring fence. So as other areas of expenditure are squeezed, at local level, early years money will be used on other things.

TPP: What do you think is the most pressing issue moving forward in creating and maintaining youth-directed programs in lieu of events such as the August riots and the growing public concern over the futures of our young children?

NE: My major concern is not about service delivery, but about unemployment, affecting young as well as older working-aged adults. There will be increases in child poverty as unemployment rises and new benefits systems take hold.

TPP: What do you feel is the biggest hurdle to overcome when implementing programmes and policies directed at helping families and young children?

NE: My main conclusions from the book were that we made two serious mistakes, which really remain the hurdles for programme implementation. We did not sufficiently recognise the difficulty of the task of running the programme, and hence failed to provide the ongoing development, support, and performance framework that would have ensured higher quality earlier on. Secondly, we did not understand how long it would take for programmes to become established in local communities. In part, our efforts to get as much set up as possible in a short time, meant we neglected the needs of the new work force needed for implementation.

Many thanks Naomi. If you’d like to know more about ‘Providing a Sure Start‘, the book can be ordered here at 20% discount.

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