There is strong evidence that the first few years of life build the foundations for future health and wellbeing and, that taking a preventative approach together with systems changes in local agencies can improve the life chances of babies and children. However, these interventions have yet to be tested at scale.
A Better Start aims to improve the life chances of babies and very young children by delivering a significant increase in the use of preventative approaches in pregnancy and first three years of life. Big Lottery Fund has invested £215m over 10 years in five local area partnerships within:
These geographical areas have a high level of need in terms of deprivation, educational achievement and child health. Alongside government funded and third-sector providers working collaboratively across health, education and social care, Big Lottery Fund’s investment will allow these areas to make structural changes to the way in which they identify and work with families at risk of poor outcomes, in addition to introducing a range of preventive interventions focusing on pregnancy and the first three years of life.
These interventions set out to improve outcomes for children in three key development areas of:
- Social and emotional development – preventing harm before it happens (including abuse and/or safeguarding, neglect, perinatal mental health and domestic violence) as well as those that promote good attunement and attachment;
- Speech and language development – developing skills in parents to talk, read and sing to, and particularly to praise – their babies and toddlers and to ensure local childcare services emphasise language development; or
- Nutition – starting out by encouraging breast-feeding and promoting good nutritional practices.
The evidence suggests that these three areas can have a significant impact on long-term life chances and outcomes.
Big Lottery Fund wishes to use the learning from this investment to promote a shift in public policy, public funding and agency culture away from remedial services to greater investment in prevention in pregnancy and the first few years of life. Each area will also need to address systems change across all children and families agencies. The systems changes should deliver less bureaucratic, more joined-up services; services that are prevention-focused; that are needs-led and demand-led; that work for a whole family; and that get it right for families first time.
The ABS Programme aims to achieve the following outcomes:
For families: A Better Start will fund interventions that directly improve the life chances of at least 60,000 babies and young children in the five investment areas over the life of the initiative.
For services: The five investment areas will produce evidence and learning to show which approaches and programmes work best, and demonstrate the social and economic benefits of investing in prevention in the first few years of life.
Learning: Funded partnerships will benefit from comprehensive evaluation and learning support, enabling them to put the science and evidence into practice, evaluate the impact and cost effectiveness of these approaches, and share this learning both within and beyond the immediate investment areas.