A better start

It is difficult to exaggerate the importance to babies and young children of getting off to a healthy start.

What happens to them from before they are even born through to when they start school, and particularly before the age of three, will have a huge impact on the rest of their lives.

Following the transfer of public health responsibilities to local government (in October 2015 for zero to five-year-olds), councils are busy investigating, planning, trialling and implementing a wide range of policies, initiatives and interventions around early years provision. In a context of major financial cuts, all are looking to secure more efficient and effective use of diminishing resources.

Some are focused on preventative programmes, with early identification of children and families in need of additional support and intervention; others on better integration of health, care and education provision for early years, to improve families’ experience of services as well as outcomes for their children. And some are looking to do both, with plans reflecting their individual circumstances.

The LGA recently published ‘A better start: supporting child development in the early years’, which provides advice and guidance, suggested questions to ask of your council and partners (see right), and case studies from councils around the country.

The case studies include Hertfordshire County Council’s ‘My baby’s brain’, which aims to convey to parents of very young children, in simple, accessible language, the importance of attachment to the development of a baby’s brain.

Derbyshire County Council’s work with parents and professionals on ensuring young children are ready to start primary school, and South Gloucestershire’s work on improving early years development in Gypsy and Traveller communities are among the other examples featured.

While there has been steady growth in the proportion of children reaching a ‘good level of development’ in the early years, inequalities persist. The good news is that the recent rapid expansion of our knowledge about what good development in the early years looks like is leading to innovative improvement in the way services are commissioned and delivered by local councils working with their partners.

Early years services – 10 key questions

  • Does the health and wellbeing board have a sufficient focus on early years and early identification of needs?
  • Have partners agreed a joint vision of how early years support is commissioned and delivered locally?
  • How are vulnerable families who require additional support identified?
  • What is the evidence base for early years interventions used in your area?
  • How are intervention programmes and support services evaluated to ensure they are contributing to improving outcomes?
  • What practical guidance and support is offered to parents, especially new parents, about the importance of their role and the difference that they make?
  • How does the council and its partners ensure services avoid duplication and provide a
    ‘seamless’ experience for children and families?
  • Do practitioners from different professions share a common understanding of issues, and use the same language and terminology in their interactions with children and families?
  • Do systems allow for information sharing across agencies and is information routinely shared?
  • What are the views of children and families on the early years support services provided? How are these views used to ensure services meet local needs effectively?

‘A better start: supporting child development in the early years’ is free to download at www.local.gov.uk/publications

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