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Vulnerable babies to have a better start in life

17 June 2014

Our England Director Dharmendra Kanani reflects how A Better Start is putting parents at the heart.

Change can take a long-time. With the awards we announce today we’re providing long-term funding, to enable communities and organisations to orientate themselves around the key relationships in the early years of life. These relationships can affect a person’s life chances for better or for worse.

This approach will enable parents, communities and services to think about how to reorder, redesign, and even re-imagine how they can collaborate, connect and cohere around the key relationships in early life and provide a better start for babies.

Dharmendra with Sonia Siddique, Ayaan, 4 and Aydin, 1 copy - sml

Dharmendra with Sonia Siddique, Ayaan, 4 and Aydin, 1 copy – sml

This is an opportunity for communities and systems to put babies and families at the heart of their work with a focus on love and engagement, diet and nutrition, and language and communication. This will test whether, on a local basis in a small number of areas in England, we can make a compelling case for prevention and imagine a different and better way to provide a better start for babies and their families.

That the funding is for 10 years is significant: it’s patient, to enable credible results; it’s durable, not subject to a cycle of political change; and it’s formative, that local places can learn, review, and revise their implementation. And it may, perhaps, provide services with an opportunity for reform based on a very different premise – that by bringing parents, communities, the voluntary sector and public systems together with the best data and evidence about what probably works best, real change can happen for families and communities.

Like any change, this needs pioneers and outliers. Funders, like the National Lottery, can occupy the space of an outlier, given its role and purpose, but on this occasion our role was to provide the space, time and money for partnerships to be creative, thoughtful and serious. In A Better Start we have hard-wired learning from previous successes and failures; we have convened and been brave, supported by an ambition of parents, communities, agencies and thinkers who feel and know this is the right thing do but never had the opportunity or capital.

The pioneers in this story of change are the parents and babies. For A Better Start to work, its ethos, sentiment and organising philosophy for system change has to be based on a belief in the potential of the formative relationship between a baby and parent.

A Better Start can save money and has already levered tens of millions locally and nationally. But its outcomes can mean a generation of people ten years from now having a very different outcome than what might be without A Better Start.

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