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Debbie Watson, Ailsa Cameron and Nadia Aghtaie Supporting young children and families at risk: an evidence-based review of free early education and family.

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Presentation on theme: "Debbie Watson, Ailsa Cameron and Nadia Aghtaie Supporting young children and families at risk: an evidence-based review of free early education and family."— Presentation transcript:

1 Debbie Watson, Ailsa Cameron and Nadia Aghtaie Supporting young children and families at risk: an evidence-based review of free early education and family support for disadvantaged families Social Work and Social Development Conference July 2012, Stockholm, Sweden

2 In Policy George Osborn, UK Chancellor of the Exchequer pledged to invest an extra £380m a year by 2014/15 to expand the childcare places for disadvantaged two-year-olds from 130,000 to 260,000. This comprises funding for early education and family support provisions. As he stated: –“I can tell the House today that we can double the number of children who will receive this free nursery care. Forty per cent of two-year-olds, 260,000 children, from the most disadvantaged families, will get this support in their early years [.....] Education, early years learning; that is how you change the life chances of our least well off and genuinely lift children out of poverty” (Mahadevan, 2011).

3 Which two-year-olds will be entitled to a free early education place? From September 2013, children from families meeting the criteria also used to decide eligibility for free school meals, and looked after children, will be eligible – this will be around 20 per cent of all two-year-olds in England, although the percentage will vary from area to area. From September 2014, we will introduce new eligibility criteria, so that in total some 260,000 children in England (around 40 per cent of all two-year-olds) will be eligible. We shall consult in due course on the proposed criteria to apply from September (DfE website, 2012)

4 General evidence- base ‘Early intervention’ as a means of improving the educational attainment of the most ‘vulnerable’ children (Field, 2010; Allen, 2011). One aspect of ‘vulnerability’ is economic poverty (Feinstein, 2003; Blanden, 2006). Kiernan and Menash (2011) cite research evidence demonstrating that children who experience poverty – particularly in early childhood - are more likely to experience lower levels of educational attainment than their more affluent peers.

5 Closing the gap Studies of early interventions (e.g. Springate et al. 2008; Kendall et al. 2008) have suggested that children’s life chances – their cognitive, social behavioural and health outcomes - can be improved when such interventions involve ‘joined up’ service delivery; are of high quality, delivered by qualified and skilled professionals; are focused on the needs and take into account the values and beliefs of specific children and their families; and when they focus on building positive partnerships and relationships between adults and children.

6 Quality The specific effects of early years education on children’s cognitive and social/emotional outcomes in the short term and also the longer term has been demonstrated by the EPPE and REPEY studies (e.g. Sylva et al. 2010). ‘Quality’ in early years education was identified in these studies (ibid.) and an exploration of international studies of the effects of early education and care (e.g. Mitchell et al., 2006; Melhuish, 2004; Wylie et al,. 2006; Montie et al., 2006; Peisner-Feinberg et al.,1999) confirm and extend their findings. From an analysis of this literature, six characteristics of ‘quality’ can be identified incorporating process issues - factors relating to programmes, professional values and relationships, and pedagogy; structural elements – for example, staffing and assessment; as well as issues relevant to partnerships with parents and families.

7 The need (Mahadevan, July 2012, CYPN) Nearly a third of new mums from low-income households lack local support networks to help them through pregnancy and are unaware of services to help with depression, a survey has found. The survey, conducted on behalf of the charity Family Action, questioned more than 2,200 women in the early stages of pregnancy through to mothers with a youngest child aged two. It found that a fifth of women do not have friends or family nearby who they can turn to if they feel isolated through pregnancy or immediately after the birth of their child. This rose to a third among women in the lowest income group. Thirty per cent of the women said they were not aware of local services to support them through feelings of isolation and depression during pregnancy and immediately after birth. A quarter of women who responded said they were not always comfortable bonding with their babies.

8 The Project Aim: to access parent’s and practitioners perspectives of the enhanced provision for 2-year olds in Bristol* Funded by the LA; Research conducted January-July 2011, Phase 2- Jan-July 2012; Data collected in 10 children’s centres- parent, practitioner interviews + naturalistic observation of early learning and family support activities; Focus groups offered to all other CCs in Bristol; *a pilot funding stream not centrally funded at the time

9 Findings (Parents) Early education component of the enhanced provision valued as it allowed them space to deal with challenging circumstances in their life or to manage day to day tasks. The majority of them reported the gains for their child and valued the opportunity that their child has been offered. Barriers to engagement focused on their personal circumstances and dispositions, with many citing a lack of confidence as a major factor; or the inability to manage competing demands on their time from other children, partners and other aspects of home life. The relationships they were able to build with practitioners in settings were valued and staff were referred to in very positive ways. Group activities were not well regarded by most enhanced provision parents who valued the one- to-one and home based work that their children’s centre was able to offer. In particular PEEPS sessions did not appear to be positive experiences for parents that had attended them. There were also concerns raised about the loss of the Barnardo’s Family Community Workers. The family support sessions most valued by parents were ones that enabled them to progress in their learning and to improve their chances in the labour market, or ones that supported their child’s learning and development.

10 Findings (Practitioners) Practitioners recognised the pressures that some parents (particularly mothers) were under. Overwhelming support by practitioners for the importance of children having access to early education. There was a sense of frustration that despite often creative and innovative planning, enhanced provision parents were difficult to engage in family support activities. Relationship-based work with families was a clear priority with practitioners reporting high levels of one-to-one and responsive styles of working with families as issues arose. With pressures on other statutory services there was also a sense that children’s centres have greater demands placed on them as families with ever complex needs are referred. How centres worked with other agencies was varied, but it was clear that in most cases there were pressures on health and social services and this impacted on information about referred families and continuities in services. Practitioners also raised a number of professional issues in respect of the absence of a coherent training programme for those working in family support and the need for formal supervision. They were also concerned about proposed changes to enhanced provision in respect of criteria and early education hours offered to families.

11 More successful approaches Sessions focused on the parent’s learning e.g. literacy, maths, IT, cookery, craft classes, gardening, healthy living Sessions focused on the child’s learning and development e.g. speech and language groups, films of children’s development, dance & gymnastics groups Trips and activities outside of the centre Whole family fun days or film nights Targeted groups for enhanced provision families only Structured parenting programmes Smaller open access groups Home visits with treasure baskets, story bags etc Culturally appropriate and open ended sessions without fixed content One-to-one work

12 Concerns raised- echo evidence base for what is required for quality provision Programmes- what and how to deliver/ importance of outreach/ culturally appropriate; Professional values and relationships- need for better multi-agency working and multi-professional centre based work; Pedagogy- competing ideologies over the focus of 2-year old funding (improving child outcomes e.g. S&L; improving parenting; harm reduction; poverty reduction); Structural elements – for example, staffing and assessment- need for training, supervision, flexible staffing for outreach (family support team?); Partnerships with parents and families- relationship-based practice, long term/ outreach and need for time and support- how to evidence??

13 Evidence-based National policy? Evidence of early intervention in respect of cognitive gains is well documented (in high quality settings- EPPE, Sylva et al, 2010); Little evidence for early intervention with 2-year olds; Little evidence of the impact of universal family support/ outreach; Training, supervision, quality concerns; Variable practice- locally determined, based on specific staffing patterns and multi-agency relations; Competing/ unclear agendas? Community cohesion, safeguarding, child welfare, parenting, poverty alleviation, school readiness, social mobility, closing the gap

14 Thank you for listening- any questions? Contact Details Phone: (0117) WATSON, D., CAMERON, A. & AGHTAIE, N. (2011) Family and Practitioner experiences of the enhanced provision for 2-year olds in Bristol children’s centres, Bristol, University of Bristol.


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