Evaluating 'A Better Start'
In September 2015, the CLAHRC South London Executive adopted a nationwide project from the research portfolio of Professor Debra Bick, who is deputy lead of the CLAHRC maternity and women’s health theme.
A team of researchers from across England and Scotland (including Professor Bick) who are led by the University of Warwick are evaluating A Better Start, a Big Lottery funded 10-year ‘test and learn’ initiative that aims to improve the life chances of children from birth onwards. The Big Lottery Fund is investing £215 million in Blackpool, Bradford, Lambeth (south London), Nottingham and Southend. In each of these places, collaborations of local voluntary and community sectors organisations, parents, local authorities and health organisations will offer programmes and initiatives that aim to improve children’s social and emotional development; communication and language development; and nutrition. Each area has been awarded up to £50 million to put evidence-based initiatives into practice.
The Warwick-led research will investigate the impact of the different initiatives to help discover which methods work best. The findings will be shared widely and will inform the development of future policy and practice. There will also be an evaluation of the economic effectiveness of the programme’s different elements.
A long-term cohort study is being set up to follow children from birth to age seven to help assess the impact of the initiatives. There will be three ‘matched’ control areas – neighbourhoods of England that are similar to the five areas chosen for investment. Children will be recruited from all geographical regions so researchers can compare their development and health over a period of time, and assess what effect different interventions have.
Professor Bick and her colleagues at King’s College London are organising the recruitment of pregnant women to join the cohort study. ‘We will be asking maternity units in each of the five Big Lottery target areas and in three control areas to work with us so we can recruit women who are 20 weeks pregnant,’ she says. ‘When we have recruited maternity units, we will work with them to set up systems for recruiting women over a two-three year period.’
A pilot study early in 2016 will help the King’s team work out the best recruitment processes.
• For more information about the research visit A better start – the Warwick Consortium evaluation and the Big Lottery Fund website.
• In Lambeth, the Better Start award was made to the National Children’s Bureau, working in collaboration with Lambeth Council, Lambeth Clinical Commissioning Group, King’s Health Partners, voluntary organisations, community groups, parents, schools, nurses, Young Lambeth Co-op and local police leaders. Together, they are the Lambeth Early Action Partnership. To find out more about the south London initiative, visit theLambeth Early Action Partnership website.