Eric Pickles recently announced details of an expansion to the Troubled Families programme to help younger children get a better start in life.
The Troubled Families programme will retain its current focus on reducing truancy, crime and anti-social behaviour, but will apply the approach to more families with a wider set of issues including domestic abuse, debt and where children are at risk of being taken into care.
The programme will expand from working with children of school age to include those under five years old, and will have a particular focus on improving poor health which is a particular issue for ‘troubled families’.
A new report from the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) has found that working families are struggling to afford a basic standard of living.
The report, titled “Cost of a Child in 2014″ is funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and explores the living costs of families earning the national minimum wage. It finds that families working full-time jobs are falling short of the basic standard of living by 18%, as a result of a combination of low wages, benefit cuts and rising costs of childcare. The shortfall increases to 43% for those currently out of work, with the cost of raising a child having risen from 8% to 11% since 2012.
The annual “Cost of a Child” report, now in its third year, calls for the government to do more to protect children and families from poverty, estimating the weekly cost of raising a child – including rent, council tax and childcare costs – at £164.19 for couples and £184.50 for lone parents.
Since 2012, cuts and freezes to benefits have left many parents worse off, with child benefit covering 19.2% of the cost of raising a child, down from 20% in 2012. Since 2008, the cost of childcare has risen by 42%, representing twice the official inflation rate.
Communities secretary Eric Pickles has applauded council efforts to support almost 53,000 of England’s most troubled families over the past two years.
Speaking at the Local Government Association conference in Bournemouth, Pickles revealed the Government programme had ‘turned around’ 52,833 families since April 2012.
‘To have helped so many families so quickly is testament to the hard work and determination of troubled families teams across the country,’ he said.
The communities secretary pointed to authorities such as Wakefield, which has ‘turned around’ around 85% out of its 930 troubled families.
But he added local authorities had been helping households ‘in every corner of the country’.
In a wide ranging speech to conference delegates – which included quotes from book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Pickles said local government had ‘coped remarkably well’ in what he termed ‘this challenging time’.
Yet the communities secretary pushed town halls to do more on cost cutting, adding: ‘Councils are still spending £100bn a year. There is still a great deal of best practice to show how efficiency savings can be made and we still have only scratched the surface by embracing better procurement, cutting fraud and increasing joint working.’
A government adviser on childcare has said that leadership is a more important factor than the qualifications of staff in providing quality childcare to disadvantaged two-year-olds.
A recent report from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) called for a minimum Level 3 child development qualification for all staff working with disadvantaged two-year-olds, and for 30% of staff to hold a relevant degree qualification.
However, James Hempsall, a government adviser on childcare and national director of Achieving Two Year Olds has stated that effective leadership and good management of settings are a more significant factor than the qualifications of staff.
Hempsall currently oversees the government’s free childcare scheme for disadvantaged two-year-olds and said that his experience of the scheme does not necessarily suggest that quality is directly linked to qualifications of staff.
Hempsall leant his support to staff aiming for at least a Level 3 qualification and backed the drive for a graduate-led sector but also noted the value of experience of working in quality settings under effective leadership.
Currently around 15% of staff working with disadvantaged two-year-olds hold a specialist childcare degree, with 78% qualified to Level 3.
Another recent report by the University of Oxford also drew a parallel between quality of service and graduate staff, this time looking at settings working with three- and four-year-olds.
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A new study, following on from a review carried out in 2012, shows that parenting interventions continue to have a positive impact over the longer term.
In the original 2012 study, the Department for Education used a randomised controlled trial known as Helping Children Achieve (HCA) to study the short term effects of two different parenting interventions with parents of 5-7 year olds.
One group of families received support from the Incredible Years Programme, designed to work with behaviour and improve relationships; while another received the Supporting Parents on Kids Education in Schools Programme, an intervention designed to improve literacy. A third group received both interventions.
The results of the 2012 study showed improvements in behaviour for all three groups after a 9 to 11-month period, when compared to a control group who had received neither intervention. One unexpected outcome of the trial was that only those children who had worked with the Incredible Years Programme had seen an improvement in their reading, despite its focus on behaviour and relationships.
A follow up study, led by Professor Stephen Scott and funded by the Nuffield Foundation, looks at how these families have fared two years down the line at the ages of 7-9. The results show that the reduction in problem behaviour had been successfully sustained over the long term, suggesting that tackling difficult behaviour at an early age can have a lasting positive impact. In summarising the original report, the new report also notes that the programme designed to work with literacy had not been successful, highlighting the value of robust evidence on the effectiveness of specific programmes.
Perhaps most significantly, the improvements in behaviour were universally positive, regardless of parents’ level of education, mental health, and whether the children lived in a one- or two-parent home. This suggests that attainment gaps can be successfully addressed with the use of effective parenting programmes and that a wide range of parents can be willing to engage when given the opportunity to work with parenting interventions.
The long-term benefits for disadvantaged children who attend high-quality early years programs have long been known to include better qualifications, higher adult earnings and lower involvement in crime. But a groundbreaking study shows how the positive outcomes can extend to physical health – including lower levels of obesity and reduced risks of heart disease.
A new report has found a quality gap in nurseries and pre-schools serving children and families in disadvantaged areas.
The report, Quality and Inequality: do three- and four-year-olds in deprived areas experience lower quality early years provision, was carried out by researchers at the University of Oxford and published by the Nuffield Foundation. Analysing data on over 1,000 private, voluntary and independent (PVI) nurseries and 169 state-run providers, the results show that the discrepancy is only apparent with the PVI settings.
This gap is thought to be related to the number of graduates working in early years settings. Where all state-run classes run from primary schools are led by a graduate teacher, less than half of PVI settings employ a graduate, and as few as eight percent employ more than one graduate. Settings in disadvantaged areas showed that the quality gap from their wealthier counterparts was reduced where a graduate was employed.
The quality gap was found to be most significant in language skills, where children from lower socio-economic groups are already at a disadvantage, sometimes falling a year behind children from more affluent backgrounds.
The report recommends the continuation of state-run provision, and suggests that PVI settings take advantage of the Early Years pupil premium, announced in March, to recruit more graduates. It also supports the Teaching Schools Initiative, which encourages schools with poor performance to work with stronger schools to improve their work.
Sandra Mathers, the lead author of the report, said: “This research highlights the challenges involved in ensuring that the children most in need of good quality early years provision actually receive it. It is vital that we equip nurseries and preschools with the tools and support they need to help disadvantaged children overcome the odds and reach their full potential.”
Barnardo’s have hinted that there may be great organisational change in their future, as it seeks to work with local authorities on managing children’s services.
The new chief executive of Barnardo’s, Javed Khan, has told sector publication Children & Young People Now that he hopes the children’s charity will develop into a more strategic organisation, working with local authorities to manage, and commission children’s services.
They have already announced that they will be involved in training children’s centre staff in a new “five to thrive” programme which supports early years practitioners in helping parents to engage with their babies in activities that boost social and emotional development. The programme uses play, touch, and communication to support early brain development.
Barnado’s currently delivers local children’s service, but this may be set to change over the next few years as the organisation develops. Khan says that Barnardo’s may work within a consortium, and could be in a position to support other voluntary sector organisations in delivering services that have been hit by funding cuts and increased demand.
In the interview, Khan said:
“The future has got to be about how you invite an organisation like Barnardo’s to the table of the thinking, the planning, the rethinking and then service commissioning.
“It is organisations like Barnardo’s that are big enough, experienced enough, knowledgeable enough about what the right thing to do is from the frontline that can be part of that right at the start as a strategic partner.
“But we might want to be within a consortium, a much more team-based approach alongside other charities and voluntary sector organisations, and the private sector might be included too”.