Organisation: Hertfordshire County Council, Childhood Support Services

Region: East of England

Sectors: Children's social care · Early Years · Health

Services: Consultancy · · · Bespoke training

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case study
My Baby's Brain

Hertfordshire County Council, Childhood Support Services, 1 February 2014

the need

'My Baby's Brain' was conceived as a response to the growing body of research in neuroscience about brain development, and the increasing recognition of the period between conception and the age of three. This research indicates that nurture, or lack of it, in this period has important ramifications for a child's learning, their social and emotional well-being, and positive outcomes in later life. Importantly it highlights the significance of everyday attachment interactions in the home learning environment for promoting healthy brain development.

It was also a response to the emphasis in the Allen Report (Early Intervention: Next Steps), and other policy documents, on early intervention in the early years, in terms of prevention, early identification of vulnerability and addressing risk factors for vulnerable families.

The project was further inspired by the Centre Forum report Parenting Matters, which advocated a strategy similar to the 'Five-a-Day' healthy eating campaign in conveying simple, easily accessible child development theory and home-learning message to parents from all backgrounds.

the solutions

KCA was commissioned in the first instance to:

  • Design and a facilitate a multi-agency workshop for key stakeholders to agree key message
  • Design and produce promotional materials to communicate the agreed key messages to parents and professional
  • Design and deliver a series of one-day training courses to reach approximately 80 professionals working with parents
  • In partnership with key stakeholders, design and deliver an 'additional session' to existing post-natal sessions in Hertfordshire

A third party, Family Matters Institute, was commissioned to evaluate the development, roll out and impact of the 'My Baby's Brain' project. The impact evaluation was to focus on worker and parental knowledge, confidence, and self-efficacy.

the outcomes

KCA developed and produced the first Five to Thrive resources. These have been rolled out nationally and are now being used in early intervention and early help initiatives around the country.

The one-day training course 'Building Baby Brains' was developed. In Year 1 this was delivered four times reaching a population of 80 practitioners. The participants were primarily children's centre staff and health visitors, but other professionals were represented, with the key selection criteria being that their role must require them to work with parents of children aged nought to three.

We worked with a group of Health Visitors to develop a post-natal group session based on the material, and this was delivered across five settings in Hertfordshire.

The first year evaluation demonstrated positive impact across all the criteria and the project was subsequently validated by C4EO as an example of best local practice.

The programme was extended in Year Two with the 'Building Baby Brains' course being delivered on a further 15 occasions, to a total of around 400 staff.

Event management and additional learning resources were made available through KCA Connected. This allowed participants to register for training and complete a pre-training questionnaire. After the events, they had access, via a secure log-on to KCA's e-learning courses and to additional web-based resources to help them embed learning into practice.

The training offer was further extended to include nursery and pre-school providers in recognition of their acting in loco parentis. 'Relationships build brains' was developed as a sister course to 'Building baby brains' and focused on the direct contribution of childcare workers to brain-building activity as alternative attachment figures.

The second year of the initiative was evaluated by the Colebrooke Centre for Evaluation and Implementation together with Warwick University. This time the evaluation focused solely on the training and impact for the workforce. The evaluation was published in February 2014 containing positive results for Year Two and some useful indicators for how the strategy might develop.

next steps

Hertfordshire are reviewing the findings of the second year evaluation and from this will establish the next steps through a review and planning meeting scheduled for Summer 2014. In the meantime the training continues to be in high demand: six further courses will take place in the first three months of the financial year 2014-15.