Interview: Merle Davies, Director for the Centre of Early Child Development

Ms Davies has been appointed to lead part of Blackpool's Better Start project

The Centre of Early Child Development has been established as part of the Blackpool Better Start partnership, a Big Lottery-funded initiative to test what methods are the best for laying foundations in children’s first three years to improve their future health, social and educational outcomes.

What are the main issues experienced by families/communities in Blackpool?

Due to environmental factors such as poverty, some of our families experience social isolation, mental ill heath, domestic abuse and substance misuse, which impacts on a child’s development, leading to a poor gestation and birth.

How will Better Start address this?

The NSPCC, the local authority, parents, police, hospital trust and clinical commissioning group have come together to transform services for pre-birth to threes and their families. A range of bespoke preventative approaches are being developed. The centre will provide the leadership and strategic direction ensuring all partners are actively engaged in the delivery and co-production of services.

Can you give examples of the ‘bespoke preventive approaches’ you are developing?

Since September, we have been running an evidence-based antenatal programme for all expectant parents living in Blackpool’s most deprived wards, including the Family Nurse Partnership for parents under the age of 20. From next year, we will be introducing approaches to tackle neglect and support attachment, and for parents with substance misuse issues, and expectant mothers with a history of trauma. We are currently undertaking research to consider the best approaches to address poor oral health and drinking in pregnancy.

The aim is to help 3,000 families per year initially in our identified wards, but all families in the town within ten years.

How else will you be helping families?

We will be providing small grants through children’s centres to encourage parents to develop activities. We will also be involving communities to redesign parks and open spaces to make them accessible for families.

What are the next steps?

We are six months into our ten-year plan. The next steps are to gather evidence through research and evaluation, find out what works to address poor outcomes and with our community, implement strategies to break the cycle of intergenerational poor outcomes.

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