A SURE Start programme supporting families with children under four-years-old is planned for Newton Aycliffe and Shildon.

The Department for Education and Skills has authorised the development of a programme in Shildon and west Aycliffe, which includes 743 children under four years.

An advance of just over £100,000 has been confirmed to support the costs of recruiting staff, consulting with parents and producing a delivery plan, ahead of the official launch in April.

Work has been happening behind the scenes for some months and a development group has finalised a plan, which was submitted to the DfES in January.

In a report to Sedgefield Borough Council's cabinet next week officers said: "The delivery plan provides a statement of the key vision and aims of partners to deliver improved services to families with children under the age of four.

"It aims to improve their future educational, health and emotional development outcomes."

Consultation events with service providers, parents and carers have identified the needs of children in the two areas .

Issues included parents' sense of isolation, the difficulty of getting good quality information, a lack of quality facilities for families and the need to access affordable childcare.

Other worries raised included poor transport links, the need for increased individual support, the development of support groups and a greater range of activities for children.

The partnership behind the scheme will apply for £1m of capital funding for indoor and outdoor play areas and an annual grant of up to £850,000 for revenue costs.

Consultations will continue over the next few months, particularly in the west ward of Aycliffe where parental involvement in existing services is low.

The cabinet is expected to approve the plan today.