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Case Study: Innovative Programmes Promoting Healthy Child Development

Evidence consistently shows that long-term outcomes are better for children who have had their health and wellbeing supported during their early years. Support should begin in pre-natal care before babies are even born, continue through their toddler years and extend once they start school. This includes living in a safe environment with secure housing, having access to appropriate healthcare and nutrition, and receiving the education and support they need to reach key developmental milestones. 

Sure Start was a scheme developed under New Labour to try to improve the life chances of economically disadvantaged children. By 2010, as many as 3,600 Sure Start Children’s Centres had been opened. The centres offered families access to services including:

  • Healthcare
  • Childcare
  • Parenting classes
  • Job skills
  • Playgroups

Between 2010 and 2017, funding for Sure Start began to dwindle, with funding for the centres reduced by 50% (£763m). This led to the closure of thousands of centres, reducing access to vital services that promoted healthy child development to some of the most vulnerable in society. Despite the promises of subsequent governments to provide funding for children’s services and ‘level up’ disadvantaged areas, the Institute for Fiscal Studies announced recently that 30% of children now live in households below the poverty line. 

A report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation claimed that the UK was experiencing a deeply rooted issue with poverty and 3.8 million people experienced ‘destitution’ in 2022; this figure included around one million children. Destitution means people are unable to meet even basic needs, i.e. unable to stay warm, dry, clean and fed. Multiple recommendations were made based on the findings of the report, including changes to Universal Credit payments, sanctions and debt repayments. 

However, this is not a crisis that can be fixed by giving families extra cash alone. Although financial assistance is a key component to help those struggling, improved access to appropriate, local services is necessary – something which is not spoken about enough. 

In this article we will look at some programmes and grassroots organisations that offer help to families and provide advice, education and training around the importance of healthy child development to everyone involved in caring for children, including:

  • Parents/carers
  • Childminders
  • Nurseries
  • Schools

It is vital that youngsters receive the support that they need to thrive, regardless of their socio-economic status. 

Group-of-nursery-school-children

Case Studies: Early Childhood Education and Nutrition Programmes

The Early Years Alliance Nutrition Support Programme

The Early Years Alliance is a registered educational charity and the largest, most representative, early years organisation in England.

The Early Years Alliance:

  • Represents over 14,000 members
  • Helps their members reach over 800,000 families each year, delivering care and education where it is most needed
  • Offers information and advice
  • Produces specialist publications
  • Campaigns to influence early years policy

Through their Nutrition Support Programme, they hope to improve the future health outcomes of young people by educating those working in early years settings about the importance of proper nutrition.

The Alliance offers different nutrition packages, delivered by experienced nutritionists and dieticians who have experience with early years. Providers can work both virtually or in-person with nutritionists and will be offered a quality mark, based on assessments and accreditation, that best reflects their level of knowledge and care in providing the right nutrition to young children. 

There are different programmes available, as well as bespoke packages. Some options include:

  • First steps on the journey – 10 hours with a nutritionist, online access to nutrition resources from the team.
  • Quality mark – 22 hours with a nutritionist, in-depth support, quality mark accreditation.
  • Premium package – 40 hours with a nutritionist, in-depth training and advice, webinars, advanced quality mark.

As well as being able to show parents and carers that you, as an early years worker, have the accreditations and training to deliver the right nutrition, the Alliance programme also helps you to:

  • Better support disadvantaged or marginalised children to get the right nutrition
  • Increase your awareness and knowledge
  • Get the children you look after involved and encourage them to build healthy relationships with food at an early age
  • Have ongoing access to resources, recipe ideas and events
Little-girl-eating-healthy-food

HENRY

HENRY stands for Health Exercise and Nutrition for the Really Young. They run training programmes and sessions all over the country to encourage families to adopt healthier lifestyles, get active and eat better.

For over a decade, HENRY have been bringing their evidence-based approach to parents, families and local services. They have worked with and trained over 15,000 partners including NHS trusts, local authorities and early years practitioners. They emphasise their holistic approach and commitment to working with parents and supporting them, rather than simply teaching them. 

HENRY run activities, programmes and workshops in person and online, covering topics such as:

  • Healthy Families Right from the Start
  • Cooking for a Better Start
  • Starting Solids

According to HENRY, based on a decade of their service provision:

  • 40% of families are eating less meals in front of the TV
  • 5,000 mums have been supported with infant feeding (including breastfeeding)
  • 90% of families would recommend HENRY
  • 2 in 3 parents feel more confident in their role
  • 81% of families they have worked with have healthier mealtimes
  • Half as many families regularly eat takeaways
  • Twice as many children eat five portions of fruit and veg per day
  • 97% of families who join a HENRY family programme are leading a healthier lifestyle by the end of it

Their Healthy Families: Right from the Start programme has the strongest evidence base of any national early years healthy lifestyle and child obesity prevention programme in the UK. So far, over 23,000 families across all parts of the UK have now benefited from it.

Their Healthy Families: Growing Up programme for families with children aged 5-12 years is also based on the proven HENRY approach. It achieves similar outcomes to their early years programme.

To find out what HENRY services are on in your areas you can find their interactive map here. Click on your location to find out what is happening near you.

Case Study: Parenting Support and Family Engagement Initiative

Start for Life

In January 2024, the Department for Education (DfE) in collaboration with the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC), launched a new campaign called Start for Life ‘Little Moments Together’. The aim of the campaign is to educate parents about the importance of brain development from the ages of 0-5 and the crucial roles parents play in supporting it. 

According to the DfE, disadvantaged children often start school developmentally behind some of their peers, especially in terms of speech and language development. Children with poor vocabulary skills at the age of five are less likely to succeed in academia and may be up to twice as likely to be unemployed in their 30s.

The Little Moments Together campaign is trying to raise awareness about the activities and strategies parents can use as part of daily life to support their child to meet developmental milestones. They have resources, information and tips readily available on their Start for Life website. Resources are grouped by age, from the pregnancy months to the baby stage to toddler years, and include key information about:

  • Stages of pregnancy
  • Healthy eating, exercise and vitamins in pregnancy
  • Preparing for birth
  • Bonding with your baby
  • Feeding
  • Mental health support
  • Dental hygiene
  • Weaning
  • Playtime and activities
  • Dealing with emotions

As well as incorporating key information into their simple, eye-catching website, the Start for Life campaign is trying to promote family engagement through social media campaigns and email programmes. They have also commissioned a film about brain development in early years and how to help your child build a healthy brain. 

Start for Life have also partnered with organisations up and down the country – you can check support available in your local area via a single point of access called family hubs. They offer support to people with children ages 0-19 (25 if they have a disability) as well as during pregnancy. 

Support offered includes:

  • Parenting support (including baby groups and parenting classes)
  • Support for wellbeing and mental health
  • Support for children with special educational needs and disabilities
  • Access to financial and debt advice
  • Information about local youth clubs
  • Domestic abuse support
  • Infant feeding advice
  • Advice about childcare options

Each family hub offers access to different support and services, depending on what people in the local area are deemed to need.

Case Study: Community-Based Early Intervention and Support Services

Disabled Children’s Outreach Services (DCOS) in Tower Hamlets, East London 

Tower Hamlets is a borough of England’s capital, London, that has some of the highest rates of child poverty in the UK.

The DCOS is an early intervention service, based in Tower Hamlets, that connects families with the services they need quickly and easily. By removing the long waiting lists and anxiety around appointments, this scheme means that parents can come along with their children and speak with a trained psychologist, as well as meet others in a similar situation. 

The intervention service is available to families with a child who has a learning disability, autism or both (as well as families with a child with other types of disability). Families are able to access support from trained psychologists in different ways, depending on their individual circumstances and needs. This includes: 

  • Individual support (at home)
  • Group support
  • Drop-in support
  • Workshops
  • Stay and play sessions
  • Link-up lunches

Parents are given tools and techniques to help their children to manage common challenges, for example eating better, improving their sleeping habits and learning to manage their emotions. They help children to develop their life skills and can work with other family members, for example siblings, leading to a collaborative and supportive whole family approach that improves outcomes for all.

On their Stay and Play Saturdays, parents can go to drop-in sessions with a psychologist. As no referral is needed, people are able to turn up on the day and families can get support immediately. 

The scheme uses some innovative techniques to overcome the common challenges that exist around accessing mental health such as a lack of resources:

  • They offer placements to students who are studying for their doctorate in psychology
  • They can assess families by phone and direct them to the right support straight away

The young people and families are given support somewhere where they feel comfortable, which might be their home or school. Support covers key areas that families of disabled and neurodivergent children often struggle with, including:

  • Behaviour
  • Boundaries and routines
  • Understanding and communicating feelings
  • Eating
  • Sleeping

Thanks to the Tower Hamlets scheme:

  • 99 families are receiving individual support
  • 24 families receive group support
  • The monthly link-up lunch reaches 135 families each year
  • The service has helped a number of children avoid being sent away to residential school
  • Around 230 families are helped by the stay and play sessions each year
father-and-child-assessment-meeting

The drop-in style groups have removed some of the barriers and anxiety around accessing mental health support. Dr Paula Corredor Lopez, Consultant Psychologist and Manager of the DCOS service, says: 

‘Quite simply, the DCOS service reaches people where they are. We have reduced the barriers and the stigma by being more accessible.

Our weekend community-based groups mean that people with a learning disability, autism or both, can now access psychological support immediately. People can literally turn up on the day and meet with a psychologist for 40 minutes. No waiting. No referral. People feel supported by the service because it’s happening when they need it and where they need it.’

Outcomes for children and parents using these services have improved, thanks to the innovative approach and immediate help on offer. Interventions can be made earlier, meaning that families get the help they need before tensions bubble over or relationships break down. 

Parents report feeling more empowered to cope due to the help they have received and mental health outcomes seem to improve for both parents and children involved with DCOS. 

Conclusion

Nurturing care supports children physically, emotionally and mentally and it can also protect children from the worst effects of adversity. When we give young children our care and attention when they are growing, it helps them to connect with others and build positive relationships in the future. It is also important that children have their nutritional needs met so that they can grow, develop, keep a healthy weight and have healthy bodies to fight off illness. 

Parenting is not always easy, especially if you face adverse challenges such as poverty, poor health or your child has additional needs. If you find you are struggling or need extra help, check for support services in your area, or contact your local authority, health visitor or GP. 

As we have seen in the case studies we have looked at today, despite funding cuts and challenging political times, there are some services available to help and support our children to thrive, even if the odds seem to be stacked against us at times. 

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About the author

Vicky Miller

Vicky Miller

Vicky has a BA Hons Degree in Professional Writing. She has spent several years creating B2B content and writing informative articles and online guides for clients within the fields of sustainability, corporate social responsibility, recruitment, education and training. Outside of work she enjoys yoga, world cinema and listening to fiction podcasts.



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