The joint study by the Department of Education and the WAVE trust says that the first two years of life are a crucial period of human development and require more focused attention.
The report, ‘Conception to age 2 – The age of opportunity’, captures the findings of a 14-month study and identifies that disadvantage in society can be tackled with more comprehensive identification of parents who need support in bonding with their children, together with the provision of that support.
It was set up by the DfE with the WAVE trust and supported by the Department of Health, the Big Lottery and a special interest group of early years experts.
The study findings and report contain evidence and guidance on everything from pregnancy, the importance of infant and mental health, to the quality of training of practitioners such as midwives and health visitors.
It proposes an assessment for new mothers at three to five months, to assess whether they are coping and bonding with their baby. If a mother were struggling, the report indicates a number of evidence-based support programmes to help them deal with parenthood, in particular, cases of postnatal depression.
George Hosking, CEO of WAVE Trust and co-author of the report, said, ‘This report, if adopted fully by local authorities, could contribute to transforming the quality of childhood in this country. It is a blueprint for creating happier and more successful children and families. The Christie Commission on Public Services said "40 per cent of all spending on public services is accounted for by interventions that could have been avoided by prioritising a preventative approach." The potential cost savings from investment in intelligent, early years’ prevention measures into billions of pounds. This is why the Big Lottery is investing £165 million in promoting such an approach.’
The report provides an evidence-based account of the importance of the first few years of life to future outcomes, in terms of physical and mental wellbeing and the ability to achieve, and contribute to society.
It also contains a review of UK and international studies into the economic case for investment in the early years. This suggests returns on investment which significantly exceed both their costs and stock market returns. UK Social Return on Investment studies showed returns of between £1.37 and £9.20 for every £1 invested in early years.
The special interest group behind the study played a significant role in shaping BIG’s contributions to up to five particularly disadvantaged local areas. The money will be used to fund and evaluate pilot programmes of ground-breaking strategies to prevent harm in children before it ever takes place.
Education and childcare minister Elizabeth Truss writes in the foreword of the report, ‘As our understanding of the brain development of babies improves, so too must our policies, to reflect this critically important period of life. If every single child is to benefit from positive changes we are making to the early childcare and education settings, then every single child has to receive ‘good enough’ parenting.
'The "Age of Opportunity" report provides many of those with evidence-based answers as to how we can practically implement support for women and families, and promote a generation of improved infant mental health.’
Andrea Leadsom MP said, ‘The campaign to minimise the damage resulting from families struggling to bond with their babies is crucial to tackling some of society’s most intractable problems. This outstanding report adds still further overwhelming body of evidence showing the earliest intervention yields by far the biggest benefits both of the families themselves and for society more widely. I’m particularly pleased that the Report has the backing of the Departments of Education and Health since they will be crucial in ensuring that resources in future are focused very strongly on the 1001 Critical Days between conception and two years of age.’
The work of the special interest group is endorsed by leading experts including the Nobel-prize winning economist James Heckman, Andrea Leadsom MP and the education and childcare minister.
The report will be launched this afternoon in the Assembly Hall in Church House in Westminster.
The WAVE trust is a Croydon-based charity that specialises in early years intervention, with particular focus on the birth to two age group. It works towards raising the profile of how the early years can transform society, the economic benefits of this approach and the need for quality provision in the earliest years of a child’s life.