Programmes that boost children's development rated

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Programmes that support attachment, behaviour and cognitive development in young children have been assessed by the Early Intervention Foundation.


Forming secure attachments is an important part of a child's development

The review is aimed at commissioners of early years services and policy makers to advise them on ‘how to help parents improve how they live and play with their under-fives to improve their experience of childhood and enhance their ability to flourish and avoid harm.’

According to the EIF, if effective early support is given to children and families in need when ‘clear signals of risk are apparent’, children’s life chances can be improved and savings made to the taxpayer.

The What Works centre and charity has assessed 75 programmes that aim to support parent – child interaction among under fives and awarded them a score for evidence and cost rating.

The review has for the first time rated the strength of evidence of impact and the cost of the schemes available in the UK.

Programmes to promote behaviour, attachment and cognitive development are the focus of the EIF’s review.

The EIF says that, ‘Although the overall evidence base for programmes available in the UK needs further development, there is a wide range of well-evidenced and promising interventions that, if carefully commissioned to insure they fit with local need and context, are likely to be effective in tackling problems identified in the early years.’


Ten programmes that have good evidence for improving children's 'behavioural self-regulation' have been identified. They include the Incredible Years Preschool Basic programme, one of five programmes rated highly for good evidence in improving children’s behaviour. The scheme involves parents attending weekly sessions with and three- to six-year-old to teach them how to interact positively with their child. It is rated highly for evidence at 4+, because there is established evidence of its impact.

Programmes are rated for cost on a scale of 1-5, based on the estimated unit cost per child in terms of resources needed to run the programme.

The Incredible Years programme is rated 2 for cost, i.e. £300-£499 per child.

Attachment can be hard to measure, the reports says, but it highlights five interventions where there is good evidence of improving attachment-related behaviours and reducing serious risks in highly vulnerable children.

For cognitive development the review focussed on language and communication skills.

The evidence base is 'relatively weak', the report says, finding just two programmes with good evidence of improving early language and communication. It says that the best evidenced programmes for this area of development are well-known US programmes, Abecedarian and HighScope.

The EIF does not kitemark programmes and says that just because a programme has been shown to work in previous studies it does not mean it will work everywhere.

The review has assessed programmes available to UK commissioners, as well as others from around the world.

It says that the evidence is strongest for programmes that target based on early signs of risk such as child behaviour problems, insecure attachment, delayed development of speech and lack of maternal sensitivity.

Carey Oppenheim, EIF chief executive, said, ‘Parents and care givers lay the foundations for children’s crucial life skills including the ability to build productive relationships, emotional regulation, communication, and problem solving as well as strengthening their self-esteem. Where parents struggle, effective early intervention can make a difference.

'Our review reveals there are a good number of well evidenced programmes that if carefully commissioned and implemented are likely to be effective. Reduced funding in Local Authorities and other local services makes it more critical to use the best evidence available to inform commissioning decisions.  

‘This doesn’t mean commissioners should drop programmes which don’t yet have strong evidence. Local commissioners need to use this evidence and the ratings, alongside knowledge of their local context to make carefully judged spending decisions. EIF does not kitemark programmes and just because a programme has been shown to work in previous studies does not mean it will work everywhere.

‘Whilst this evidence is an important start to enable more informed commissioning of early intervention in the UK, the sector as a whole needs support to develop further. Too few early interventions have been tested in the UK and we still rely too much on evidence from other countries such as the USA and Australia which, whilst important, does not remove the need to test programmes as they operate and adapt for the demands of the UK. We need a body of evidence about the impact of early intervention in the UK.’  

However the EIF says that there needs to be better testing, monitoring and evaluation of early intervention programmes, testing impacts over long periods, with a particular focus on voluntary organisations who struggle to find the funding to assess their impact.

Ms Oppenheim added, ‘We want to support early intervention providers to adapt and test their programmes in the light of our review. We will be doing what we can to support them to evolve and help this sector to realise its potential.’

  • Read the report Foundations for life: What works to support parent child interaction in the early years here


Programmes rated 3 or 4 on evidence standards

Attachment Behaviour Cognitive development
Family Nurse Partnership Incredible Years Preschool BASIC REAL (Raising early achievement in literacy
Family Foundations Family Check-up  Let's play in tandem
Infant Parent Psychotherapy ParentCorps  
Child Parent Psychotherapy The New Forest Parenting Programme  
Child First Hitkashrut  
  Triple P Group  
  Triple P Standard  
  Triple P Discussion Groups  
  Empowering Parents Empowering Communities  
  Helping the non-compliant child  
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