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“A Better Start can transform lives”

16 January 2013

George Hosking, CEO and Research Director, WAVE Trust, is a member of the steering group shaping BIG’s new £165m investment in children’s early years. Fulfulling Lives: A Better Start aims to deliver a step change in preventative approaches in pregnancy and the first three years of life to improve life chances.

In this guest blog George explains how in ensuring that young children have the best start in life, prevention is far better than cure, and preventing harm to children before it happens is just common sense.

A wide range of research now shows that conception to age two is a crucial phase of human development and is the time when focused attention on children’s wellbeing can reap the greatest dividends for society. How we treat 0-2 year-olds shapes their lives – and ultimately our society.

George Hosking

George Hosking

Loving, secure and reliable relationships with parents together with the quality of the home learning environment, foster a child’s emotional well-being, capacity to form and maintain positive relationships with others, brain development (c.80% of brain cell development takes place by age 3), language development, and ability to learn. Poor support at this stage, particularly a failure to prevent abuse or neglect, can have a lifelong adverse impact on outcomes.

There has been a sea change in public policy perception in the past couple of years of the importance of this earliest period in a child’s life. This has found expression in BIG’s wonderful initiative A Better Start.

Selected areas will receive £30-50 million to improve outcomes in the areas of social and emotional development, language and nutrition. It’s not rocket science. The wisdom of the ages tells us that prevention is better than cure, and preventing harm to children before it happens is just common sense.

WAVE has been at the heart of driving the move to transform children’s social and emotional development in the early years. In 2010 I was appointed as adviser to Labour MP Graham Allen’s Review on Early Intervention. In 2011, together with Conservative MP Andrea Leadsom, WAVE set up a group called the Early Years Champions.

In July 2011 the Government published Supporting Families in the Foundation Yearsits formal response to the Allen Review and other reports on the importance of early intervention. Invited to comment on the report, I said the document was excellent on what should happen from age 3 to 5 but that I’d like to see more focus on the earlier and most formative time.

Baby plays with primary school pupils

BIG-funded Roots of Empathy project brings young babies into the classroom environment, improving the behaviour of primary school pupils

This earned me the privilege (and work!) of co-chairing the Under 2s Special Interest Group – to fill the gap. This was a special study, which has been running for the past 12 months. My partner in this was Sally Burlington at the Department for Education.

The work of the Group, carried out with support from the Departments for Education and Health, was wide-ranging and thorough.

Subjects covered spanned pregnancy through mental health to education, the economics of early years’ investment and everything in between, including training of professionals to deliver support when and where it matters most.

It looked at such issues as when, why and how we assess infant development. The Early Years Champions were vital contributors on many of these topics.

We have now pulled together the findings and recommendations. The final report, entitled Conception to age 2 – the age of opportunity, is now ready for circulation to Ministers and will be formally launched in March. Its findings have played a significant part in shaping the A Better Start initiative.

I am delighted to have been involved in this for many reasons, including the opportunity to work with those at the leading edge of preventing harm to children before it takes place. The study updates and adds to WAVE’s 16 years of research into the root causes of such dysfunction. I am honoured to have been invited to be a member of the steering group of A Better Starta project with the potential to transform the lives of communities around the country.

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