Special Report: Early Childhood Development

Policymakers and practitioners are boosting support for families in the most disadvantaged areas to help pre-school children develop the skills they need to thrive and reduce the attainment gap.

There is a growing evidence base linking good development in the first few years of life with better economic, health and social outcomes throughout childhood and into adulthood.

Recent research by ICAN showed that a child's language development at 22 months can predict academic outcomes at 26 years. Meanwhile, a study by Hart and Risley found that by the age of three a child from a disadvantaged background had heard 30 million fewer words than one from a more affluent background.

Policymakers' efforts to close this child development gap have focused on boosting access to free early education, both through the universal free childcare offer or more targeted programmes to enhance the parenting skills for families with young children in the most deprived areas of the country.

However, early education experts say the government's strategy prioritising early intervention and the home learning environment could be undermined by cuts to a variety of benefits, closures of community facilities, such as children's centres, and rising levels of child poverty.

In addition, the rise in childhood obesity, linked to fewer open and safe outdoor spaces for children to play and increased reliance on screen-based entertainment, have raised concerns over young children's physical development.

CYP Now's special report on early childhood development summarises four recent studies on the topic, highlights key policies aimed at enhancing early years support for the most disadvantaged children and families, and identifies four examples of innovative practice being delivered by local agencies.

Click on the links below for more:

Policy Context

Research Evidence

The early caregiving environment is important for achieving attunement between mother and infant and, in particular, for promoting a secure attachment. Three of this month's summaries discuss ways of improving mother-infant relationships.

The article by Hilary Kennedy and colleagues explores video interaction guidance and how it can help parents to develop attuned relationships with their children and improve mental wellbeing.

The Incredible Years Toddler Parenting Programme, discussed in the paper by Hutchings and colleagues, delivers similar benefits and is also associated with improvements in child development.

Singing to infants is another way of promoting mother-infant closeness, and is discussed in the article by Fancourt and Perkins.

The final paper by Dickerson and Popli analysed data from the Millenium Cohort Study and found that persistent poverty that continues over early childhood has a negative effect on children's cognitive development, even after controlling for a range of family factors. The findings from the study highlight the importance of practitioners acknowledging the effects of poverty in understanding family circumstances.

Practice Examples

Cambridge Day Nursery

Blackpool Better Start

Bishop Alexander LEAD Academy

Rose Vouchers project

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