Proven Practice: the benefits of early intervention

The Centre for Excellence and Outcomes presents the latest guidance on how professionals can play a vital role in securing early years development, by focusing on outreach, parental support and the learning environment

The Centre for Excellence and Outcomes presents the latest guidance on how professionals can play a vital role in securing early years development, by focusing on outreach, parental support and the learning environment

Why the early years matter

The early years are crucial to a child’s long-term development. This period provides an ideal early opportunity to develop relationships with families.

Research shows that family background and children’s outcomes are very closely linked. Both nature (genetic inheritance) and nurture (a child’s emotional and physical environment) play a part in children’s intellectual development.

Some early childhood disadvantages have the potential to lead to under-achievement; but resilience can equip a child to overcome these risk factors.

Risk and resilience

Parents can pass on both risk and resilience factors. This highlights the need to support families, not just children, and to integrate adult and child interventions.

Key risk factors are:

  • Poverty and poor housing.
  • Poor parental care – inconsistency, over-control, abuse, neglect.
  • Poor relationships with siblings and other children.
  • Attitudes towards education.
  • Health issues – illness and disability.
  • Lack of parental bonding and attachment.
  • Family behaviour that promotes resilient development can include:
  • Parental interest and involvement in early education – this means encouraging parents to have expectations and promote “self-efficacy” – ie, believing that you can achieve your dreams.
  • Providing additional educational support through an enhanced home learning environment or supplementary schooling.

Young children are directly helped to achieve their potential by minimising their exposure to foetal and postnatal injury, disease and infection, neglect and abuse.

They are also helped if their parents are supported to develop positive relationships with them from birth, through bonding and attachment, and encouraged to engage in their children’s early learning.


Poverty is a key risk factor for outcomes for young children, and affects certain ethnic groups disproportionately. In 2007-8, 2.9 million of UK children or 23% were living in relative poverty.

Reducing child poverty is crucial in improving young children’s life chances. Children living in poverty have poorer outcomes in many other areas, including health and social skills.

Providing affordable childcare to support low income families returning to work is essential to reduce child poverty. It also allows children from all backgrounds to access the benefits of an early curriculum.

Most families make use of their entitlement to free childcare, but lone parents, parents from poorer backgrounds, workless households, and Asian families are less likely to use childcare than children from high income families. These families need to be made aware of their entitlement.

Early learning

A mother’s education influences a child’s learning, but all family homes that support early learning can counteract the effects of disadvantage. High quality early years provision is essential for improving the lives of very disadvantaged children.

Strategies helping children and their families make a positive transition to early years provision and then into mainstream school are particularly helpful for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Initiatives that boost the home learning environment by providing outreach and family support are also important.

These can reduce the damaging influences of poverty on children’s life chances by helping families understand that the kinds of learning activities that children do at home with them – singing, reading stories, drawing and painting – are critical for their outcomes in the early years.

This involves strengthening the skills and knowledge base of outreach workers across the board – not just early years practitioners – so that everyone understands the importance of the home learning environment and can talk about it to families, especially those in poverty and from minority groups.

Language and literacy

Interventions designed to develop language and literacy may help narrow the gap between disadvantaged children and their peers and benefit children with English as an additional language.

Early years practitioners need training in sustained shared thinking, in language and literacy development focused particularly on children from disadvantaged backgrounds, and in working with children with English as an additional language. Bilingual staff play a valuable role in this respect.

Having support from parents and the wider family is now recognised as a central feature of successful outcomes for young children, and one of the most significant factors contributing to a child’s continued success in education.

Outreach and parental support programmes that have a specific emphasis on early learning can have a snowball effect. They can help improve relationships between practitioners and parents, which in turn improves relationships between parents and children, leading to more achievement and enjoyment for everyone.


Case study


Intervening early to improve speech skills

The Hampshire songs and rhymes programme was introduced in 2005 in response to reports from head teachers of schools in deprived areas that children were entering reception class with poor speech and social skills.

Children, parents, childcare and school staff share songs and rhymes in a programme of twice weekly sessions for six weeks in the summer term before the children enter reception class. Twilight sessions are offered to working parents.

Evaluations show that all the children who take part settle more quickly and are more ready to learn, although the most vulnerable children and those with special needs (such as children with English as an additional language) gain the most, growing in confidence and settling into school more smoothly.

Schools find that lasting friendships form among the children in the groups and also among their parents and carers. Staff learn about the families and their needs and families get to know and trust the staff.

A pattern of home learning is also established, with parents and children finding out that learning is fun.

Karen Ingala is deputy head teacher at Farnborough Grange Nursery and Infant School. She says: “The programme has a big emphasis on home learning, on getting to know parents, on doing something in partnership together so that parents are empowered as first educators. It’s just a case of understanding that transition is a process and taking the time to be parent-focused rather than just child-focused.” 


Practitioners’ messages

  • Poverty has the greatest influence on a child’s outcomes in the early years. Poverty affects children from certain ethnic groups disproportionately.
  • The home learning environment has a greater influence on a child’s intellectual and social development up to the age of 11 than parental occupation, education or income.
  • Attending pre-school has a positive impact on children’s development; high quality pre-school is essential for making a difference to outcomes for disadvantaged children.
  • Providing support to develop language and literacy may help to narrow the gap between disadvantaged children and their peers.
  • Home visits alongside centre-based support help improve outcomes for younger children and children in families where parents do not seek support. For the greatest impact, interventions should include both the family and the child.
  • Effective family-based support combines strategies that minimise risk factors and maximise resilience factors. These include helping parents to engage with their children’s early learning through outreach and parent support programmes.

Online resources covering early years are available at



The Centre for Excellence and Outcomes in Children and Young People’s Services (C4EO) identifies and co-ordinates local, regional and national evidence of ‘what works’ to create a single and comprehensive picture of effective practice in delivering children’s services. It is focusing its work on a number of themes identified in Every Child Matters.


Research abstracts

Author LEUNG Cynthia, et al

Title Development and pilot evaluation of the Hands on Parent Empowerment (HOPE) project – a parent education programme to establish socially disadvantaged parents as facilitators of pre-school children’s learning.

Reference Journal of Children’s Services, 4(1), September 2009, pp21-32, ISSN paper 1746-6660

Abstract This study describes the development and testing of an early intervention programme to support immigrant parents from China resident in Hong Kong; a population characterised by high levels of poverty, low education, and problems with child behaviour.

Author GUTMAN Leslie Morrison, BROWN John, AKERMAN Rodie

Title Nurturing parenting capability: the early years

Publisher University of London. Institute of Education. Centre for Research on the Wider Benefits of Learning, 2009, 50p, bibliog.

Abstract This research report focuses on parenting from babyhood to early childhood, drawing on previous research to define good parenting in the early years.

Author Department for Children, Schools and Families

Title Early years quality improvement support programme (EYQISP)

Publisher DCSF, 2008, 76p

Abstract Guidance materials for early years professionals to drive forward improvements in line with the principles of the Early Years Foundation Stage Framework and Every Child Matters.

Author GOSLING Tim, KHOR Zoe

Title Growing strong: attitudes to building resilience in the early years

Publisher National Children’s Home, 2008, 50p

Abstract This report investigates what we have learned about building resilience in early years and uses this to explore the attitudes of parents to the issue of their children’s emotional wellbeing. Based on the learning from focus groups run in London, Manchester and Liverpool, the report makes policy recommendations that apply to central and local government, service providers, media and parents.

This article is published in the 24 June 2010 edition of Community Care magazine under the headline Risk and Resilience in the Early Years


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