A Better Start through improving child development outcomes

Rachel Kent-Horwood

Rachel Kent-Horwood, Project Assistant at NCB discusses the latest A Better Start (ABS) Programme Insight, a series of reports which aim to collate and share the learning emerging from ABS on a range of key programme outcome areas.

This report is number seven in the series. It provides a summary of emerging evidence across the three child development outcome areas which are a core focus for ABS services. These are:

  • Improving young children’s diet and nutrition
  • Developing young children’s social and emotional skills
  • Developing young children’s language and communication skills.

This Programme Insight shares the learning on how ABS partnerships have supported infant and early childhood development within their work, from the beginning of the programme, and through the challenging times of the past few years.

It is widely known that the early years of a child’s life are critical to their healthy development and later life success. Areas of early child development are also known to be interrelated so a good foundation across these 3 key developmental areas is going to help to protect children and help to close the gaps observed in levels of development.

The importance of early language and the home learning environment has been well documented. It is viewed by theorists as a “critical period” for development, as neural pathways are formed within the brain which pave the way for successful speech, language, and communication development throughout childhood. Examples of ABS work in this area include SSBC’s Home Talk and Blackpool Better Start’s home visiting service. Both services are offered in the home environment which has made families feel more comfortable when engaging with these programmes.

Healthy social and emotional development in the early years provides a child with the necessary building blocks to engage with the world around them and contributes to a wide range of positive longer-term outcomes. An example of ABS work in this area includes LEAP’s Enhanced Casework for Domestic Abuse. This early intervention service aims to identify pregnant women and families with children aged 0-3yrs at risk of abuse and provide 1-1, longer term support which could minimise the risk of adverse childhood experiences and early trauma.

Healthy attitudes toward diet and nutrition in the early years not only supports physical development but contributes to much wider health and wellbeing outcomes for children. The ‘Feed Your Way’ campaign in Nottingham aims to change attitudes and promote breast and chest feeding across the district. Another example of practice in this area is ABSS’s Food on our Doorstep (FOOD) Club which is a scheme where Families pay £1 a year and are then able to purchase a bag of food every week worth approximately £10-15 for £3.50. This scheme reduces the stigma for families and helps them to provide nutritious food for their families that would otherwise go to waste.

Read more examples of how ABS work with young children and their families to support development can be found here.

About A Better Start

A Better Start is a ten-year (2015-2025), £215 million programme set-up by The National Lottery Community Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK.

Five A Better Start partnerships based in Blackpool, Bradford, Lambeth, Nottingham and Southend are supporting families to give their babies and very young children the best possible start in life. Working with local parents, the A Better Start partnerships are developing and testing ways to improve their children’s diet and nutrition, social and emotional development, and speech, language and communication.

The work of the programme is grounded in scientific evidence and research. A Better Start is place-based and enabling systems change. It aims to improve the way that organisations work together and with families to shift attitudes and spending towards preventing problems that can start in early life. It is one of five major programmes set up by The National Lottery Community Fund to test and learn from new approaches to designing services which aim to make people’s lives healthier and happier

The National Children’s Bureau is coordinating an ambitious programme of shared learning for A Better Start, disseminating the partnerships’ experiences in creating innovative services far and wide, so that others working in early childhood development or place-based systems change can benefit.

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Visit the A Better Start website to find out more.