Early years case study

Social science provides the evidence [Sylva, Joshi and Buchanan] for when and how interventions in the early years of a child’s life are highly likely to secure better outcomes later in life. The effects of neo-natal screening and breastfeeding are being modelled and costed; social scientists work with the NHS in designing and putting in place programmes to change mothers’ attitudes and behaviour. We know how to make children’s immunisation programmes more effective and can calculate the costs and benefits of breakfast clubs in deprived areas.

Such studies underpin a broad ‘invest to save’ proposition: actions now could cut future public spending on welfare, health and criminal justice (savings of £200,000 per child have been estimated in one anti-social-behaviour programme). Research for the Early Intervention Foundation (EIF) shows that home visiting or individual therapy interventions have the strongest evidence of effectiveness, compared with group-based ones. Developing ‘executive function’ skills at the ages of three and four helps children to learn, take part and make friends at nursery and school, with cascading effects on their subsequent chances of success.

On domestic violence and abuse, the EIF assesses preventive programmes for children and young people and goes on to advocate specific actions by government and other agencies; these include a targeted intervention to build the ability of adolescent parents to carry on relationships. We can measure the connection between childcare and nursery quality and children’s school success – a connection that applies independently of the socio-economic background of the child. Emla Fitzsimons and colleagues running the Millennium Cohort Study found children of married couples are less likely to demonstrate problem behaviour. The positive effect of fathers’ involvement with their children’s upbringing has been measured; similarly grandparent care is strongly related to child wellbeing – a finding influential in the drafting of the Children and Families Act 2014.