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

Programme evidence ratings

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Programme cost ratings

“Foundations for Life: What Works to Support Parent Child Interaction in the Early Years” is a groundbreaking assessment by the Early Intervention Foundation of 75 early intervention programmes aimed at improving child outcomes through positive parent child interactions in the early years.

This new report has assessed programmes available to UK commissioners, rather than considering programmes from around the world.  This is the first time that EIF have used their own robust methods for rating the evidence and costs of early intervention programmes. The programmes included in this assessment were identified through systematic methods as part of the Best Start at Home review published in 2015.  This included a range of programmes that supported the non-physical development of children between conception and age five through direct engagement with the parent. In Foundations for Life the evidence for the programmes was reviewed and rated by EIF and external experts, as well as being scrutinised by the EIF Evidence Panel of leading academics in the field of early intervention.

Parent child interactions in the early years matter.  Parents and care givers lay the foundations for children’s life skills including the ability to build productive relationships, emotional regulation, communication, and problem solving.  Some parents, however, struggle to provide their child with a sufficiently nurturing environment or need some help along the way and so benefit from high quality support that is matched to their situation.

The report shows that there are a number of early signals of risk to children’s development such as child behaviour problems, insecure attachment, delayed development of speech and language and lack of maternal sensitivity, which can be effectively responded to by available, well-evidenced programmes or for which new programmes are under development.

Listen now: What does the evidence say about interventions aimed at supporting attachment, good behaviour and strong cognitive development in the early years?

Key Findings

  • The report found that although the overall evidence base for programmes available in the UK is not yet mature, there is a range of well evidenced and promising interventions that, if carefully commissioned to ensure they fit with local need and context, are likely to be effective in tackling problems identified in the early years.
  • The evidence is strongest for programmes that target based on early signals of risk, such as child behaviour problems, insecure attachment, delayed development of speech and lack of maternal sensitivity, although other types of programmes have also been found effective.
  • It found 17 programmes are well-evidenced, and a further 18 have preliminary evidence of impact. Many others at an earlier stage of development 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 commissioned, targeted and implemented carefully, 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

Publication Details

Publication date: 11 July 2016

Authors: Kirsten Asmussen, Leon Feinstein, Jack Martin, Haroon Chowdry

Join the conversation with

This work by EIF is invaluable to the work local authorities are currently engaged in. This study gives local authorities an evidence base on which to commission and deliver services.
Lucy Butler, Deputy Director , Children Social Care Services, Oxfordshire County Council

“It is essential that we understand ‘what works’ for children and their families and the need to better understand what works becomes more important the less we have to  spend. This new work by EIF will help ensure that our investment delivers the returns our children need. I’m looking forward to applying it in Rotherham.”
Mel Meggs, Deputy Strategic Director, Rotherham Council

“This review makes an invaluable contribution to our ability to commission more effectively in the crucial area of early years interventions. The work of EIF is rigorous and thorough, and their efforts to work closely with all stakeholders in the sector means that their conclusions have real credibility.  It is a real pleasure to see these conclusions presented in such an accessible way.”
James Thomas, Director of Children’s Services, London Borough of Newham

“This new review from EIF is exactly what we need to inform ‎our decisions about how best to help children and their families at these critical early stages of child development. This is a crucial step forward for public services. I hope it will inform our collective thinking about how we invest in further research, build both the evidence base and the knowledge and skills needed across the children’s workforce”.
Isabelle Trowler, Chief Social Worker for Children and Families 

“We miss too many opportunities to work alongside the parents of very young children to build their resilience.  The work of EIF furthers the evidence base of what works which will help us make good commissioning decisions that are aimed at ensuring young children get the best possible start in life”.
Dave Hill, Executive Director for People Commissioning, Essex County Council and President, ADCS 

“When commissioners and front line professionals invest in work with children and families, we have a huge responsibility to offer the best available interventions. We are not just responsible for making good use of scarce resources to support today’s vulnerable children and families, we are also enabling today’s children to become the best possible resource for the children, families and communities of tomorrow. Knowing “what works”, and sharing that information with families and decision makers, is key to all our work – this research provides an accessible and reliable tool to enable us to do that.”
Nicky Rayner, Service Director – Childrens Social Care, Milton Keynes

“The early years are among the most important in a child’s development. Research shows that children who miss out on love, attachment and nurturing during this crucial time are likely to more likely to struggle with their mental health, relationships and educational attainment in later years. I welcome this research which adds to our knowledge about what works. Offering early support to children and families when there are signs of children’s development being at risk is vital. When parents and families are struggling, just small amounts of effective additional help can prevent problems escalating, making a real difference to children’s lives and their long-term futures.”
Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England

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