Welcome to the first A Better Start Southend research bulletin.

We will provide you with regular updates on the latest early years policy, practice and evidence, and inform you how we are using these latest findings to influence our work here in Southend.

If you would like to sign up to receive these updates or have a question please email abetterstart@southend.gov.uk.

Early intervention

Title: Inter-parental relationship support services available in the UK: Rapid review of evidence

Research source:  Early Intervention Foundation

Publication date: December 2016

Authors: Lara Doubell, Laura Stock, Daniel Acquah

Our summary:

This Early Intervention Foundation Report is based on a literature review of papers published between 2006 and 2016. A summary of the findings is as follows:

  • Relationship support services need to reach out to economically disadvantaged parents and families;
  • Services are often focused on transition points (for example pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding or infant feeding), and there is not yet enough targeting on starting school;
  • Most of the services are currently delivered by the voluntary sector;
  • Support needs to be much less disjointed among services;
  • Services need to meet the needs of key groups who need but don’t access services;
  • Further research is needed in the following: identifying risk; overcoming access barriers; workforce development; and partnership working and referral points.

How we’re using the research in Southend:

  • We are testing all of our projects in our most disadvantaged areas;
  • Our child development outcomes (social and emotional, communication and language, and diet and nutrition) support the development of children’s readiness for learning and school;
  • Our projects and access to them, are being developed in partnership with parents and a wide range of statutory, health and voluntary organisations;
  • We are developing a workforce strategy;
  • We are currently testing and learning new ways in which our projects can be accessed and engaged with.

How can I join the debate?

  • How can relationship services reach those who need them the most?
  • How can we integrate relationship services provided by the statutory and voluntary sector?
  • How can we further develop our workforce strategy?
  • How can we develop services that parents want to engage with, and can be accessed in a variety of ways?

Let us know what you think by emailing abetterstart@southend.gov.uk


Investment in outcomes

Title: Childhood forecasting of a small segment of the population with large economic burden

Research source: Nature Human Behaviour (International Study)

Publication date: 12 December 2016

Authors: Caspi, A. Houts, R.M. Belsky, D.W. Harrington, H. Hogan, S. Ramrakha, S. Poulton,  R. and Moffitt, T.E. (2016) Childhood forecasting of a small segment of the population with large economic burden, Nature Human Behaviour, vol. 1 (5)

Our summary:

The study argues that the importance of childhood risks for future development are generally underestimated. They also argue that multiple risk factors are reliable predictors of child brain health at aged 3 years. Among the risk factors were parental involvement in the criminal justice system, smoking and excess weight. On this basis the authors propose that efficient and effective early years interventions are likely to make large reductions in future investment, and on the economic burden.

How we’re using the research:

  • Our focus at A Better Start Southend is to invest in prevention and early intervention;
  • We have been working with the London School of Economics and our partners to develop the use of Preventonomics with all of our services. Preventonomics is the study of the benefits and potential cost savings of early years’ prevention services. It is an attempt to quantify the contribution prevention can make to reducing long-term costs and improving outcomes for children. This will help maximise our impact and the positive outcomes that our children and families will have;
  • We are developing an enhanced Healthy Child Programme (HCP);
  • We are using the latest early child development research to inform all of the work we do and the services we provide.

How can I join the debate?

  • What makes an early years intervention efficient and effective?
  • How can we use recognised risk factors positively to develop non stigmatised services that our communities want to engage with?
  • How can we cost services in a way that evidences impact and ensures sustainability?

Let us know what you think by emailing abetterstart@southend.gov.uk


Social and Emotional

Title: Father involvement in early child-rearing and behavioural outcomes in their pre-adolescent children: evidence from the ALSPAC UK birth cohort

Research source: British Medical Open Journal – Paediatrics (UK Study) 2016

Publication date: November 2016

Authors: Opondo, C. Redshaw, M. Savage-McGlynn, E and Quigley, M.A. (2016) Father involvement in early child-rearing and behavioural outcomes in their pre-adolescent children: evidence from the ALSPAC UK birth cohort, BMJ Open, 22 November 2016, vol. 6

Our summary:

This study aims to look at the nature of father involvement in early child development, and the effect it may have at ages 9 and 11 years. Using data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) its particular focus is on behavioural difficulties which were measured by the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire.

The study suggests that psychological and emotional aspects of paternal involvement in infancy are the most powerful in influencing later child behaviour. Therefore how a new father sees themselves as a parent can be seen to be more important in positive behavioural outcomes than the amount of direct involvement in childcare.

How we’re using the research:

  • We are working closely with the Fatherhood Institute to test and learn from projects, for example Fathers Reading Every Day (FRED), a project that encourages fathers to read with their children regularly, which will help build better relationships and develop communication skills.
  • The Fatherhood Institute are also supporting us in looking at our policies and practices to make sure they are all inclusive;
  • We acknowledge the contribution that fathers and male cares play in child development and child outcomes as a whole.

How can I join the debate?

  • What services support the emotional wellbeing of fathers and male carers of young children?
  • How might we support fathers and male carers in terms of the quality of their relationships with their infants?
  • What need do you think there is for these services?

Let us know what you think by emailing abetterstart@southend.gov.uk


Communications and Language

Title: Policy-to-practice context to the delays and difficulties in the acquisition of speech, language and communication in the early years

Research source: International Journal of Early Years Education (2016)

Publication date: October 2016

Authors: Blackburn, C. and Aubrey, C. (2016) Policy-to-practice context to the delays and difficulties in the acquisition of speech, language and communication in the early years, International Journal Of Early Years Education Vol. 24 (4)

Our summary:

This small scale study examines policy and practice contexts in terms of delays and difficulties in acquiring speech, language and communications in children aged 0-5 years. This was undertaken through the use of practitioner interviews. Using the results the authors argue that there is greater use of assessment tools in specialist rather than universal services. It also argues that the early years practitioners in the study would benefit from support in understanding language specific child development.

How we’ll be using the research:

  • We are testing and learning the use of the Wellcomm screening method, this is a toolkit that will help to monitor children’s communication development and identify those who need extra support;
  • We will be testing the validity and reliability of Wellcomm against the standardised Pre-school Language Scales-5 (PLS-5);
  • We are working with parents to further build on our range of ‘Let’s Talk’ programmes.

How can I join the debate?

  • What tools and methods do you think could help us support a wider range of children 0-5 years in their language development?
  • What information would support your child’s speech and communication development?

Let us know what you think by emailing abetterstart@southend.gov.uk


Diet and Nutrition

Title: Prenatal Anxiety and Infant Feeding Outcomes

Research source: Journal of Human Lactation (2016)

Publication date: September 2015, issued 2016

Authors: Fallon, V. Bennett, K.M. and Harrold, J.A. (2016), Prenatal Anxiety and Infant Feeding Outcomes A Systematic Review, Journal of Human Lactation, vol. 32 (1), 53-66

Our summary:

This review looks at the effect prenatal anxiety may have on infant health and in particular infant feeding using existing evidence. The 99 studies that were utilised do not evidence any association between prenatal anxiety and the initiation and sustaining of breastfeeding. However, some evidence has been argued that high levels of anxiety maybe associated negatively with breastfeeding intention and exclusivity. However, the authors argue that on the basis of this small samples within the review that further research into this association is required.

How we’ll be using the research:

  • The results of the study are tentative, however our work stream group will be testing and learning projects which will support the linking of social and emotional and diet and nutrition outcomes in pregnancy and beyond;
  • It will inform any enhancements that we may make to the Healthy Child Programme.

How can I join the debate?

  • What services will support infant feeding in early pregnancy?
  • How can we support families in managing emotional wellbeing both in pregnancy and post pregnancy?
  • What are the risks associated in terms of anxiety in terms of pregnancy, birth and beyond?

Let us know what you think by emailing abetterstart@southend.gov.uk

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