Press notice for Foundations for Life: What Works to Support Parent Child Interaction in the Early Years

11 July 2016

A ground-breaking assessment of 75 programmes which aim to improve child outcomes through supporting positive parent child interactions from conception to age 5 is published by the Early Intervention Foundation (EIF) today. The EIF review ‘Foundations for Life: What Works to Support Parent Child Interaction in the Early Years’ has assessed programmes available to UK commissioners, as well as other programmes from around the world.

The quality of parent child interactions in the early years help lay the foundations for children’s ability to develop crucial life skills. For the first time, the EIF has rated both the strength of evidence of impact and estimated the resource costs of early intervention programmes available to commissioners in the UK.

The What Works centre and charity found that evidence of effectiveness is strongest for programmes that target interventions based on early signals of risk, such as child behaviour problems, insecure attachment, delayed development of speech and lack of maternal sensitivity, but there is a range of types of effective programmes.

It found 17 programmes that are well-evidenced, and a further 18 that have preliminary evidence of impact. The EIF said there are also many other programmes at an earlier stage of development that are committed to developing their evidence, and must be supported to do so.

Five programmes were rated by the EIF review as having had “no effect” in a rigorous study which failed to show consistent benefits for children. This doesn’t necessarily mean that these programmes will never work, some may adapt and be found to be effective in the future.

If carefully commissioned, implemented and matched to need many of these 75 programmes have the potential to enhance development and tackle problems identified in the early years and, for example, improve children’s behaviour and achievement at school or prevent mental health problems when they are older.

The EIF’s review focuses on the following three key aspects of child development:

Behaviour: While aggressive and defiant behaviours in toddlers are normal, between 5 and 15 per cent are likely to carry on behaving aggressively once they enter school. The EIF found 10 programmes with good evidence of improving children’s behaviour by teaching parents strategies for managing and reducing their child’s aggressive behaviour.

Attachment: Around 15 per cent of toddlers tend to be classed as having poor attachment. Forming a secure attachment with a primary caregiver is a key to children’s social and emotional development. The EIF’s review found 5 programmes with good, evidence of improving attachment.

Cognitive development:  How children learn to think, understand and communicate is strongly influenced by their early environment and parenting. Within this category the review focused mainly on early language and communication. Some children are more disadvantaged – particularly those from poor backgrounds and deprived communities – or whose parents struggle to support their learning. The EIF found 2 programmes with good evidence of improving early language and communication.

If effective early support is provided to children and families in need when clear signals of risk are apparent, then children’s life chances can often be substantially improved and savings generated to the taxpayer, the EIF said. The charity will be running a programme of events and regional masterclasses to work with local commissioners to apply this new evidence to inform local spending decisions.

However, it warns the overall evidence base for early intervention programmes available in the UK is still in development. If early intervention is to deliver the changes hoped for, the charity said, there is now an urgent need for greater investment in more high quality evidence, over longer periods of childhood testing the effectiveness of programmes in the UK.

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.

“Government and Trusts and Foundations should prioritise supporting much better testing, monitoring and evaluation of early intervention programmes and approaches, testing impacts over longer periods with a particular focus on voluntary organisations who struggle to find the funding to assess their impact. 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.”


1. The Early Intervention Foundation is a charity and a What Works Centre. Its mission is to ensure all children achieve their full potential by identifying those at risk and providing effective early support. Visit for more information.

2. Copies of ‘Foundations for Life: What Works to Support Parent Child Interaction in the Early Years’ are available on request.