“Early years innovation receives Harvard University boost”

By Joanne Parkes

| 21 January 2019

An early years initiative aimed at reducing isolation and stress among families in deprived areas is to benefit from Harvard University research and development support.

The Community Connectors programme hopes to deliver key child development messages to parents of around 2,000 children aged under three.

The connectors are local community members employed by the Blackpool Centre for Early Child Development (CECD).

"It is thought that local community members may be more influential in delivering key messages to their peers in comparison to professionals due to increased trust and understanding," said a statement from the NSPCC, which leads the Blackpool Better Start partnership that runs the initiative.

The CECD is the first UK organisation to be recognised as a ‘Harvard frontier of innovation site', and the moves will link Blackpool with the Harvard Centre on The Developing Child - the world-leading centre for promoting science-based innovation that achieves "breakthrough outcomes for children facing adversity", according to the NSPCC.

The partnership is a 10-year programme led by the NSPCC and funded by the Big Lottery Fund to improve outcomes for children aged from birth to four in the town.

The Blackpool team will benefit from training in evaluation approaches which help the organisation to pilot and roll out the project.

"The aim of the connectors is to reduce social isolation and parenting stress by linking families to each other and the services they need," the NCPCC added.

The role was developed to improve social and emotional development, language and communication, and diet and nutrition. This is done through creatively engaging with families, by supporting the co-production of community action projects, and identifying barriers to service access.

Six connectors work within children's centres, of which three have a specific focus on diet and nutrition and oral health.

The work will examine whether community engagement of families and communities, and the messaging around child development, is having a sustainable impact.

Merle Davies, director of Blackpool's Centre for Early Child Development, said: "It is a great privilege to be the first UK organisation to join the portfolio and I believe we are only one of 30 other organisations that have received this accreditation.

"The findings of this 12-month study will be disseminated at our 2019 annual conference and we will look at ways of developing the research beyond the lifetime of this project with Harvard and beyond."